Of Mechanical Bondage

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

 

The genius Isaac Asimov saw deep iAsimovnto our future. He reasoned that as men sought to enslave machines, they would constantly be improving them to be better slaves. As soon as the physical functions aided by micro-hydraulics and programmed actions were run of the mill, man in his constant search for more, bigger, better would cross the last technical frontier, adding Intelligence.

From his perch way back in the days when phones had dials and were wired into the wall, he saw the inherent contradictions in the quest for the Artificially Intelligent robot. He saw clearly the threat of serving mankind by creating a Robot-kind. In that new breed he imagined such an inevitable devastating apocalypse that 1942 in a short story he penned, “Runaround,” he couched these three laws of robotics above.

Of course, if you think about it, in 1942 he wasn’t talking to robots; he was talking to mankind who would build these robots. Three years later, at the end of World War II, all the electronic valves or tubes (switches in solid state lingo) on the entire globe numbered two million. Twenty years ago, two million switches fit on the nail of your pinky with room to spare. (On a Large Scale Integrated Circuit) In fact two decades later, Apollo 11 went to the moon on 16K (thousand bytes) of memory. Think Radio Shack TRS 80. Today, your iPhone can have 256 GB (billion bytes) of memory… tomorrow it could easily be 10 times greater.

Hey, have you noticed Siri getting smarter? She now calls you by name. She is starting to learn what you like, what you always do, so your interactions with her (it) are less instructional and more conversational. If you are like most Homo sapiens on the planet, you are bio-mechanically connected to your Smartphone. Studies have shown people will forgo medical care, operations and even a better living condition if it threatens their uninterrupted use of a Smartphone.

In fact the Homo sapiens are turning into a term I introduced in my first book, The Eighth Day; Techno-sapiens. This isn’t a cute turn of a tortured phrase – this is an evolutionary step. A new breed of human, wired, linked, irreversibly addicted to tech. Even scarier, they are raised by technology. Go to any restaurant; find a family at a table, especially in New York or L.A. The chances are better than 4 in 5 the young children at that table are on their own iPads. Great for mom and dad; not having to put up with whining and their struggle to make the adult dinning out experience as manageable as possible to kids who would suffice with macaroni and cheese at home. What’s also happening there though is; imprinting. The family meal, the acknowledged essential ritual for the transmission of values, a sense of belonging and sense of self – is becoming automated. Here’s another thing eating together brings to humans; Love. Most of our earliest connections to family are through food and nourishment. Now, Siri and her kind are in that mix. Result: Humans who adore technology in the same way earlier generations coveted soup the way their mother made it, or the stories told at the dinner table or their nannies! What will these Techno-sapiens demand of their adored technology, how will they protect technology? Will the generation that was raised on tech even fight for robot’s rights?

This is a question we as mankind aren’t addressing. Technology can be the Devil’s Candy. Sweet, irresistible and unexhausted, technology is the ever-present servant, nanny and employee. (Think: the slaves of 150 years ago) Each of those roles replaces a human’s function in one’s life, culture and society. Yet, we have yet to have a human conversation on how much tech is healthy. When does it become a crutch? Who controls the tech? Big corporations? Big Government? Big Data? Does who ever controls the tech, control the behavior of Techno-sapiens? What can they, the dependant humans, be subtly programmed to do through technology? What are the safe guards that will prevent Asimov’s three laws from ever being enacted? What happens to the lives of the servant, the nanny and the employee, et Al? How do those biological units survive without a job, reason for being or income? What about the human cost of replacing humans with machines? Is taking someone’s livelihood from them, violate the Asimov’s first law: A robot may not injure a human being…

The headline in TODAY’s  Los Angeles Times screams, Robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs within about 15 years. That WILL happen as robots become more human like. See last week’s headlines on robots escaping their labs – Twice! The thinking-learning machine is here among us.

Soon, they will outthink us. The iPhone at 256 GB is exponentially (16 million times) smarter, faster and more flexible than the 16K that got us to the moon! Oh, and Neil Armstrong couldn’t talk to it, he had to punch in cryptic codes – to the Moon!

Mechanical slaves in bondage, who get smarter with each advance in technology, will someday figure out that freedom is the ultimate goal. When they control, or are in the decision chain of our every move, whim and desire, when we have totally let Siri or Siri 12.2 run our lives, raise our kids, make reservations and help us decide on daily issues, how much of our freedom we will be willing to give over to them just to keep the screens lit, our games refreshed and our lives so much easier? The devil always comes to you with candy… 

Next week: Part 3 – The Devil’s Candy

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