Friday, October 22, 2010

Replicants, Robots and Androids

I was talking to my co-worker today about sci-fi stories and eventually the conversation led to robots.  He remarked that the US Air Force led the way in unmanned vehicles.  Sure.  I agree with that.  Then we started talking about lunar and Mars missions. Unmanned missions lately.  Makes perfect sense.  Let the androids, robots and replicants take over these missions.  Agree with that, too.  But when do robotic missions cross into the moral grey area?

Goodness, this isn't a new question, but as I am sitting here watching Blade Runner for the umpteenth time (director's cut, btw) I can't help but see a very large ethical debate approaching in MY lifetime.  It may be time to ask ourselves now: How would you perceive an android?  As tool or friend?The question should be tossed around more often than it is, I think.

Friend or tool?  I tend to anthropomorphize so my answer would tend toward the "friend" perception. But then I think about all of the lame little cell phones I have gone through.  I have a little box of them.  A collection that looks like a technical chronology.  What worries me is how fast the upgrades came and how easily I grew tired of the older models.  How fast will I get disappointed in my Droid?

Last summer my son and I went to Walt Disney Land and had a chance to see Asimo, Honda's robot.  My son was fascinated. Everyone was, really.  But I kept thinking the show was a bit demeaning.  The poor thing had to walk here, bow, do other tricks.  Now, I know Asimo isn't Data or Roy Batty or Batou even.  He - It is limited.  But I still saw a future of I Robots and gynoids being discarded as soon as upgrades walk onto the showroom floor.

AI is progressing so quickly.  And although I don't foresee a protocol droid in my apartment anytime soon, or even a better vacuum, I know that someday I will be a little old lady in my cottage trying to wrestle a broom from Rosie the Robot.  Will I fire her or turn her off?  Looking at this box of cell phones now I begin to wonder.

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