Living amongst humanoids.

After reading Do Androids… I found a sudden interest in androids, humanoids, and robots. There are a good amount of robots already developed which carry out a diversity of purposes. I think it would serve as useful to see how androids are living among us and what the future entails for human life living amongst such humanoids.

Produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation and aired on NHK World (the international broadcasting service of Japan) Robot Revolution: Will Machines Surpass Humans? is a documentary featuring the different types of robots created thus far. This documentary puts into perspective the modern utility of an android, tracks the progress of robot genera, and projects the future of robots around the world. The documentary starts off describing, “…robots can take over when things become dangerous…”. This function is the most crucial role for a robot and is emphasized through out the documentary. A convention was held in which the top international manufacturers of the finest robots met and were asked to develop a robot that could help provide relief for the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011. This led to the exploration of different robots worldwide. The manufacturers surface some of the issues they have been faced with such as flexibility, and the act of balancing. These robots are able to recognize faces, respond to questions, and can complete basic tasks. The documentary further takes viewers through the journey of the modern robot and breaks down many of its human-like components such as the ankle.

What was emphasized on multiple occasions in the documentary was that androids are able to make decisions on their own without human intervention. Asimo is an android created by Honda that can perform tasks within an office setting. It can fetch drinks for people and decide on its own how to complete a request, which peculiarly lead me to question this development in terms of robot slavery. There is clearly a need for an entity to bypass such dangerous circumstances in terms of a natural disaster. However, some companies are creating robots to fulfill the needs of humans that are fully capable of completing such tasks on their own such as getting coffee and doing groceries. At 9:12 minutes a sketch is presented of a woman walking in front of a robot who is carrying all of her groceries/shopping products up a flight of stairs. I found it striking when the narrator earlier mentioned, “they think like we do, move like we do, and even sacrifice themselves for us…” Humans keep saying that they want robots to help humans live an easier life but is that not very similar to slavery?

The notion that a machine is able to successfully complete the job of a human is something that took place in both the industrial and computer revolutions. At 38 minutes a man tells the narrator that a robot would be really useful for his company because some workers are about to retire and an android can essentially do their job. The following man states that having a robot for his company “…would be cheaper than employing a person,” and further states that a robot could work all day while humans legally need lunch breaks etc. I cannot help but think about the labor market and how it will be affected in the future after these androids enter the public market. Are we able to progress as a species and with technology without veering into some ethically questionable issues in terms of the realistic application of robots and the labor market? Will robots eventually take over the jobs of humans? This brings me to similar thoughts that resonated in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor in which several people lost their jobs because a machine did the job much faster and cheaper.

If robot research and development is so heavily funded by both major corporations and military, and also keeping in mind that robots are able to use their “senses” to complete tasks, will they one day be able to develop a conscious or emotions? Will they be able to make conscious decisions? These are a few thoughts that occurred to me after having both read the book and also watching this documentary. If you all are interested in the current humanoids put forth recently, you should check out Hanson Robotics, the actuality of the Rosen Association.

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2 Responses to Living amongst humanoids.

  1. In the most speculative and apocalyptic thoughts of my mind, if robots took over all our jobs, we could possibly end up with a Wellsian “Time Machine” world. Robots could do all the work that humans currently do, and at first it would seem so convenient. If we take this to an extreme however, enslaving machines would eliminate labor and all forms of human slavery, yes, but then all humans could potentially be the leisure class. And if we follow Wells’ view of the leisure class to its conclusion, it doesn’t look too good if humans put all of their work onto a different species. For one thing, maybe the robots will rise up as we see the replicants do in Blade Runner, and for another, if humans don’t know how to do any work, then they probably won’t be able to look out for themselves in any regard.

    But then, anxieties about the working class rising up and taking over have been present for a long time, and it hasn’t changed the status quo too drastically after all.

    Anyone else want to help me with this one?

    • teithabess says:

      (Replying to keatsianfangirl — sorry if this comment is a little on the rambling side)

      That is a fascinating concept, that intelligent machines or androids will develop a general indifference to rising up as the modern working class (not all, I know — also, queue the “humanity is sheep/cogs in a machine” paralleling). However, I’d say that’s assuming they will actually think like humans. It’s possible that humans will only be able to design “brains” that think like our own, but considering how little we still know about our brains, it seems possible that we could sooner develop a “brain” that will, or learns how to, think very differently than ours, whether unintentionally developed to be so or otherwise. So many sci-fi writers like to assume the “other” will think, act, or even look much like humans, from aliens to robots, but I’m not convinced that’s entirely realistic. I know the concept of aliens is much different than that of human-made robots, but if robots are eventually designed to learn and evolve in their own way, who’s to say they will develop into something that looks like an entirely different species?

      In regards to your first points, though, I’m reminded of arguments I’ve heard about all that robots can’t do for humanity, and while there’s always art, philosophy, etc., which of course can be debated, I also wonder about the role of research in such a hypothetical, robot-labor world. Especially with the anxiety regarding robots and the potentially negative consequences of removing labor from the human populace that already exists (thanks to Wells, Dick, and at least half of history’s sci-fi writers), there could be a push to wean humans off robots as the next step after universal automation. I don’t know how this would be done, but considering how far in the future this could happen, we might not be able to conceive of such possibilities. What would Wells have written if he knew about the Internet?

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