Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Surely the mad scientists in the government that have seeded the clouds with drones and brought the public dragnet surveillance have always been churning out creepy and diabolical inventions but, I guess, were made to dip their flag to publicity and P-R (or just out of pride) and put their technological achievements on display. Dexterity and upright posture are only a question of degrees and will improve, I think (barring some unknown Pinocchio principle about balance), but as with aerial drones, a robot whose mobility can outstrip man's is unsettling.

Such a contraption could round up undesirables, be an expendable cat-burglar, but I suspect that it won't be primarily deployed in search-and-rescue missions, like a fire-fighter's companion. Nimbleness and agility are exclusively human domains, but even without a modicum more of artificial intelligence, the way that man interacts with machine will change significantly. Ethicists and sociologists are drafting laws, rules of conduct to try to anticipate this new cultural shift, which I am sure will touch on all areas of human life, labour and leisure. Broadly, I am sure a lot of highly intelligent visionaries are trying to equip philosophical quivers against all contingencies and changing norms, but those robot laws that I have heard proposed so far seem naïve and inadequate and very pro-business. It is as if one is getting a parody, like the sorry and pointed lampoon of Dr. Seuss' Lorax, instead of Asimov: 'no robot should be designed primarily to kill or harm a human being; no robot should exploit the empathy of humans, nor should they be indistinguishable from humans; one should always be able to determine who has legal responsibility for a robot…' That is all well and good but seems a little shallow. Machines have been making their human counterparts redundant for some time, but advances in robotics equates to the shock the first criminal who was caught by his finger-print had and the perfect crime entailed more than outwitting a detective.  Progress cannot be legislated but it can thrive within an ethical and sufficient framework—bureaucracy is still trying to catch up to the personal computer. This next revolution needs to have creative and thoughtful architects, and the rate of progress will be exciting and catapulting.