What do Androids really dream about?

Posted: June 7, 2015 in Theme & Creative Devices
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As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was conditioned to look to the stars for the future of humanity. Outlying colonies on the moon or some distant star system seemed not only feasible, but likely as the population of Earth became too much of a hindrance on our (ever-more decreasing) natural resources. The current trend in technological development has been in complete contrast to my original view of the future; the past few issues of Bloomberg Business Week have all had some thought provoking articles on the subject of robotics. Why would we as humans choose to populate the world with an entirely different set of entities, when space is becoming an issue and general employment with a sense of purpose is becoming less and less attainable?

The first article that I read claimed that many jobs would eventually become irrelevant due to the advent of automatized machines that could replicate lower-level basic functions. My first thought on this article was positive; why would people want to subject themselves to repetitive and menial tasks that could be performed better by a machine? Sure it is an attack on human employment, but isn’t technology meant to make life better? And what could be better than allowing individuals previously damned to menial tasks to find work that would allow them to become more self-actualized?

The bottom line:

  • Robots would take jobs from humans
  • Individuals tasked with menial jobs may not have better employment opportunities
  • Robots may develop to a point that would threaten more than just lower-level jobs

So, just as I was able to force myself to sleep after reading this article, (not that I have a menial job, but I have seen Terminator more than once!) I came in contact with another article in the same publication. This article outlined the exponential growth of robot and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies in Japan, China, and Korea. Japan (Toshiba) has gone as far as creating a life-like android clothed in traditional Japanese garb at one of the nation’s major airports that provides basic information to travelers based on voice recognition and a sophisticated series of algorithms. So, where does my nerdy mind go? To popular fiction of course!

Humanoid ChihiraAico, clad in a Japanese kimono, greets a customer at an entrance of a department store in Tokyo, on April 20, 2015

In Spike Jonze’s modern day masterpiece, ‘Her’, an artificial intelligence is able to bridge the gap between mechanical regularity and humanistic emotion. I originally saw this idea as benign, as it was not attached to a physical body. Now, if the two ideas previously discussed are combined, I think that there may be a need for concern. Any Sci-Fi fan worth their salt would remember Phillip K. Dick’s look at the disconnection between the human spirit and mechanical logic as depicted in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ’In the novel, androids had become so life like that a series of psychological tests were created to determine if an individual was a human or an android; the twist: many of these creations were implanted with artificial memories and didn’t even know that they were not human!

What would these creations be considered if they were able to pass the Voigt-Kampff tests depicted in the novel? As algorithms become more sophisticated, artificial intelligences will likely be able to bridge this gap in the very near future.

And who knows?

Maybe Phillip K. Dick’s title question may one day be answered by an artificial consciousness that cannot be discerned from that of a human.

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