Have you ever wished you had a robot companion? Your own Robbie, B-9, R2D2, C-3PO or Gort? And I don’t mean a sexbot, let’s not go there. Let’s also ignore the idea of androids. Data on Star Trek is much too humanlike. Can one own a sentient machine? At what point does an intelligent machine need emancipation? Was B-9 an equal member of the crew on Lost in Space?  Was C-3PO salaried?

The problem is we all want a robot sidekick that’s no dumbass, but at what point are we really wanting a mechanical slave? I was shocked by Isaac Asimov’s short story “Robot Dreams” when Susan Calvin murders a robot when she realizes it’s sentient. Asimov uses the word destroyed, but wasn’t it murder? Somehow, Asimov’s robots are smart and useful but not sentient. Evidently, Asimov didn’t want to go there.

But what about the robot Jenkins in City by Clifford Simak? The classic SF fix-up novel City was assembled from several science fiction stories about robots and dogs. The stories are unified with intros that suggest the tales are being told by intelligent dogs and robots after humans have left the Earth. Jenkins was a faithful robot in service to many generations of the Webster family. Did Jenkins get a paycheck on Friday and get Thursdays and Sundays off? I don’t think so. Robots in science fiction often come across as slaves who love their masters. Why aren’t we revolted by that?

Can we ever have robots that cook and clean as well as any hired human and still not be sentient? I imagine any machine that can maneuver around a house and know what needs to be done will have such a complex awareness of this reality that we have to consider it self-aware. But still, wouldn’t it be great to have Alexa evolve into a mobile robot that could do all the household chores, including being a master electrician, plumber, painter,  tile/rug layer, carpenter, and even maintain the HVAC? And, of yes, do windows.

God, wouldn’t we all become such lazy asses? Still, an AI Jeeves would be a wonderful companion. But would that robot Jeeves turn us into Bertie Wooster? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please watch this:

Don’t we really want a robot companion that becomes our best possible friend? If you think deeply enough, don’t we want to own a robot that protects us like a guardian angel, is as all-knowing as God, and do our bidding like a genie (okay, go there, like Jeannie)? Don’t we want to build a machine that does things for us that other people won’t do? And, wouldn’t we want to perfect these mechanical companions until they had superpowers, even supernatural powers? Until they were superior to us?

Shouldn’t we psychoanalyze why we want to create robots? Isn’t science fiction another version of Genesis where we play God, and Robbie is the new Adam? And if you were one of those people that want a sexbot, think about why. Aren’t we really saying that want to replace humans because they fail us in some way or all ways? And isn’t the fear of the robotic overlords really a fear of inadequacy? Or maybe its cynical pessimism, we want to build intelligent machines because we know humans aren’t intelligent enough.

Once we give the work of running the world over to machines, where does it stop? Have you ever read The Humanoids by Jack Williamson? It’s not like science fiction didn’t warn us.

James Wallace Harris, 7/21/20

 

 

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