Automatons, robots and androids.
Automatons are machines that move by themselves, like those wind up toys as seen in the movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret (based on a book by Brian Selznick). Oh, but they were not a XIX century novelty, they´ve been around since medieval times, as feats of engineering made to charm the rich and the powerful, to bewitch the populace atop churches playing the bells.
Robots are beasts of a different kind. They are machines designed do replace human labour, controlled by some kind of computer or other form of remote control. They replace humans at factories whenever the task is dangerous, unhealthy, or for some reason benefits from the adherence to standards that only the mindless precision of machine can offer. There are robots designed for medical procedures, for aiding humans in more mundane tasks, robots for entertainment, even for company.
Robots and computers are controlled by programs which operate as artificial intelligence, which simulate human behaviour, with some capacity to learn from repeated experiences, and extrapolating from a given situation to others, either similar or analogous, reaching their own conclusions, finding solutions which were not originally input into their programs, and therefore able to grow and interact.
Stanley Kubric´s 2001 Space Odissey´s dealt with this theme, as well as The Terminator series, where computers go rogue and challenge humans and mankind itself. In the movie She, a program interacts with a lonely man, fulfilling his emotional needs, “falling in love with him”, and even cheating on him. Artificial intelligence elliciting physical and emotional responses on a man made of flesh, bones and
Isaac Asimov came up with his own ideas of how humans and robots should interact. How should men make the best use of the new technology without allowing it to cause harm to mankind and still keeping a measure of respect to a machine that does retain some level of intelligence and self-awareness.
The Three Laws, quoted as being from the “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.”, are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given [sic] it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
But science fiction, a real life in later years, gave plenty of examples of robots created to cause harm to humans. Whether you consider a Drone an automaton or a robot, it does cause death if programmed to do so, as well as small bots who carry explosives and so on.
And then there are Androids. Fascinating creatures, aren´t they. Can people with robotic limbs be considered partly androids or cyborgs?
I don´t know.
Per definition, Androids are robots conceived to look, behave, act, and feel like human beings. They may execute tasks, or aid us, replace low skilled workers, or do whatever our imagination can devise. If they are intelligent creatures, albeit artificial, can we own them? Yes, have property rights over them, dispose them in any way we want?
Phillip K Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner, AI… and yes, Michael Crichton´s Westworld (which was never a novel, but a screenplay).
What would you do? Would you kill? Would you rape? Would you steal, and rob, and betray, and do all kinds of hideous acts on another human being (as long as you knew that was an artificial human being, a piece of property you paid to dispose of in any way you please)?
What are your pleasures? Who are you? Who do you want to be?
The new HBO series Westworld, poses these questions and many more, and with a stellar cast, brilliant writing, sleek production, it aims to fill the void Game of Thrones will leave when it ends in 2018. I hope it succeeds. So far I am enjoying it, immensely.