As a writer looking at our future potentialities, it is my job to caution readers that current trends suggest that we should consider the reckless speed at which we are developing robots and automation around the world. Given the competitive nature of capitalism, it is no wonder that Silicon Valley geeks are working all-out to increase the capacity of their products. Today’s digital follies are far wilder than anything Disney or Playboy could have imagined. James Lovelock, the brains of celebrated ‘gaia” (the acronym for God Answers In Absentia) suggests that we should contemplate collaboration rather than confrontation with the upcoming generation of clever robots.
Since having a pacemaker inserted, Lovelock thinks it only may be a short time before his body will be hooked onto the internet, receiving spam!1 This delightful prospect has yet to fully sink in. As it is, my brain daily rejects dozens of pharmaceutical offers filling my laptop. What if this spam soon will be infiltrated into my brain via an implanted chip? How would I then get rid of the stream of commercial rubbish? Would I even be capable of pushing a delete button?
Lovelock thinks “computers are getting more and more organic all the time.” He points out that they are already being made out of carbon and says “I can envisage a process whereby an endosymbiotic person with things in it will sufficiently fuse the two life systems together (so) that it will become a single person that will breed true.” How’s that for a Frankenstein film where “it” becomes an entity “that” breeds true? Breeding false would even be more fantastic — although in films this happens all the time. The sex scenes of tomorrow should be particularly entrancing as the “things in it” might suddenly spring out of it to the accompaniment of an updated operatic version of “la transviata.”
I have been seriously wondering, while writing this blog what tomorrow’s robots really would be like: would they have one eye or many? Would they have mouths or just speakers? Would they be made of pliable plastics or metal? Would they be asexual, bi-sexual, or just different? This is important not only in terms of the mechanics of construction but also in terms of any eventual forms of “breeding true” or other less intimate “collaboration.” We currently think of robots as “it.” However, they may find it demeaning to be talked about in this manner. The looming social complications are such that I think we should stick to the familiar theme of conflict between the sexes before we start including the two species. After all, the robots might think of us like we now tend to think of the Neanderthals.
No one seems to have considered whether sexed robots would be endowed with buttocks? Or whether these ‘carbon’ creations should go topless? Will they ever need to be dressed at all? (Most unlikely. Oh, well, that could be the end of the fashion industry altogether. Result: millions more out of jobs.) The robot/humans will not feel the cold so they won’t need warm clothes and if it gets really hot through climate change, nano air-conditioning could be installed in their bodies before parts began to melt.
Neuroscientists using super-computers, DNA scanners, and nano-probes are making steady advances in understanding the mechanism of the cortex and other brain sectors. They still have a way to go before they understand the operation of consciousness which they are certain exists as a unit to be explored. The futurologist Michio Kaku2 claims we are on the verge of digitally mapping and modeling the structure of the human brain which will then lead to replication. Once neuroscientists have made that breakthrough, the workings of the brain itself will be exposed and they should then be able to increase, decrease or alter its powers. I shall spare you the yet unfilmed scenes of mice brains being microscopically studied by neuroscientists exploring the inner workings of consciousness.
The unplanned digital revolution is overthrowing our way of life and the consequences are hardly being recognized. All our business — from banking to the stock market — has been affected; so have our privacy, our social habits, our workplaces and our education. Our communication as human beings is being altered at a pace no one a few generations back ever imagined as a possibility.
Nor could they have foreseen the condensed vacuity of twitter politics nor the deep tremors shaking our mating habits. The social impact of the arrival of the robhums (robot-humans) has not even been considered by any EU commissioner in Brussels!
With youth unemployment so high and climbing globally, should we truly be working on advanced new robots? As it is, many of the youths who have received university educations can’t find jobs. Were they over-educated or under-programmed? I seem to be encountering some kind of robots at my local co-op shopping counter every day. I encounter a different class of financial sector robots on the London train clicking their laptops. Given the number of close-to-robots we have right now on this planet, do we really need to create robhums?
Scientists working at MIT or in the labs of Microsoft, developing the new possibilities of nano-technology, are far removed from the radical consequences nanos may have on our way of life. They leave this, and the introduction of robots, to “the market” to decide which products will be successful — irrespective of the consequences. And the impact will be far reaching. Are “pure” humans all going to be branded (for more than commercial reasons) with nano-tattooed digital identities? Will those evading or trying to escape such control be coded as nano “enemies” or “terrorist suspects”?3 Yes, there is no doubt about it, ‘pure-bred’ robots will be far more trustworthy.
How far do we want to go? Are there any limits? Ultimately will the rapid and not carefully thought-out advances of science lead to “new brains” controlling our currently rather uncontrollable species?
A few decades ago President Pompidou told the French in blunt terms and with a Gallic hunching of the shoulders: “La Belle France, c’est fini.” That is to say, the France we have known is finished. Let’s face it: If the robots and humans are ultimately connected, “the good times” will be at an end for all that remained ‘human’ in our great-grandchildren. So much for the Digital Follies of today and tomorrow!
1Stephen Moss, Interview with James Lovelock, The Guardian March 31, 2014, p.8
2Michio Kaku, The Future of the Mind, 2014
3Bryan Appleyard, “Hot gospellers,” The New Statesman, April 4, 2014, pp.23-25