The March 2005
issue of the Technology Review (MIT's Magazine of Innovation)
has an interesting article
by David Talbot titled: "The Ascent of the Robotic Attack Jet."
However, in this article I saw a lot more than just a description
of a promising new area of robotic technology.
What I saw also
reflected many of my worst fears.
Mr. Talbot talks
about the Pentagon's successful bomb run test in April 2004 at California's
Edwards Air Force Base by a robotic aircraft that looks like a mini
B-2 stealth bomber. According to Mr. Talbot the U.S. Department of
Defense would like to start building these types of robotic craft
by 2010. After initial prototypes are developed, "The next crop
of planes will fly in coordinated groups, with more autonomy. They'll
tackle jobs such as attacking enemy air defenses, identifying new
targets, and releasing precision bombs."
Well, OK so far,
I suppose. I am certainly not anti-defense, and am generally very
supportive of robotic development by both private industry and government.
I am tolerant of government involvement despite the fact that government
as a monopoly is more likely to waste money, distort the free economy,
and create other problems compared to competitive private industry.
But then Mr. Talbot
Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org,
who has become a leading consultant, commentator, and analyst regarding
Department of Defense projects.
According to John
Pike, "The long -range vision is that the president will wake
up some day and decide he doesn't like the cut of someone's jib and
send thither infinite numbers of myrmidons -robotic warriors- and
that we could wage a war in which we wouldn't put at risk our precious
The article then
continues on without skipping a beat, "Realizing this vision
will require the creation of new airborne communications networks
and a host of control systems that will make these jets more autonomous
(though always under the ultimate control of a person) than anything
built to date. These are the goals of a $4-billion, five year program
at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
the Pentagon's advanced research arm..."
The article then
goes into more detail, with the tone that the sooner all of these
killer robot concepts get funded and implemented, the better.
Let me rewind
the tape here a moment, because what I just saw is precisely the attitude
that could one day put all of humanity under a ruthless robo-totalitarian
The U.S. Government
wants to spend billions of your taxpayers' money, and --
long-range vision is that the president will wake
up some day and he doesn't like the cut of someone's jib and send
thither infinite numbers of myrmidons -robotic warriors
I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives war-making powers to
Congress, not the president, despite nasty presidential usurpation
habits that have steadily developed since the Abraham
Lincoln regime. When did we fracture our value system and suddenly
throw down the memory hole Watergate,
and all of the other endless sordid
examples of unchecked executive power by American presidents and
their staff members? Why would anyone not feel some trepidation linking
arbitrary and subjective centralized authority with unlimited lethal
autonomous robot power? What ever happened to the "checks
and balances" sentiment espoused by Thomas Jefferson, when
he said: "Hear no more of trust in men, but rather bind them
down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution"
or when he also observed: "When governments fear people, there
is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."
If despite my
protest above, some readers still believe that our executive branch
and national media are totally trustworthy and competent, I invite
them to also consider the establishment's "fractured" handling
of another advanced technology area -- depleted uranium (or "DU")
used to aid penetration by American bombs and projectiles. (The term
"depleted" is a big misnomer, since the uranium in question
is in fact radioactive U-238). Please recollect in Part
Five I predict that robotic technological development will increasingly
invite debate reminiscent of discussions over nuclear safety and proliferation
issues, therefore it is well worth expounding upon the DU issue as
a glaring example of government mishandling of advanced technology.
According to Nigel
Morris' 13 May 2004 article
in the UK Independent, the US expended 300 tons of DU on
Iraq in 1991, and five times as much beginning in 2003 with Gulf War
II. Researchers have discovered that radioactivity levels from destroyed
Iraqi tanks are 2,500 times higher than normal. (Tests by the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer have found 1,500
times higher levels). The rate of birth defects in Basra in southern
Iraq increased over
sevenfold since the first Gulf War, and Down's Syndrome has increased
over fivefold. Dr.
Marion Fulk, former scientist with the Livermore, CA National
Lab, said that between 31% to 100% of the mass of DU gets "aerosolized"
upon impact depending on the size of the warhead. Aerosolized sub-micron
particles then get breathed by soldiers and civilians alike.
C. Miller released a report for the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research
Institute in Bethesda, MA indicating that DU's chemical instability
causes one million times as much genetic damage as would be expected
from the radiation effect alone. Unlike larger radioactive sources,
the sub micron-sized DU particles pass through skin, lungs, and stomach
into the blood stream, spread throughout the body and through the
blood-brain barrier, and penetrate inside the nuclei of cells. Dr.
Katsuma Yagasaki notes that the particles are not only inherently
carcinogenic and radioactive, but also have a terrible 4.5 billion
year half-life persistency. According
to Dr. Chris Busby, unlike larger uranium particles, sub-micron
DU absorbs "between 400 and 1200 times more radiation from Natural
Background that the equivalent volume of tissue (depending on the
photon energy). The energy borrowed is re-emitted as short range photoelectrons
which have high ionising [DNA-destructive] power." In other words,
the particles act as ultra-magnitude step-up transformers that convert
natural radiation into harmful radiation once inside cells of the
human body, in addition to emitting their own radiation virtually
500,000 "Gulf War era" veterans are currently receiving
disability compensation for a variety of symptoms linked to "Gulf
War Syndrome" that many experts
trace to DU. According to one
source, "In a group of 251 soldiers from a study group in
Mississippi who had all had normal babies before the Gulf War, 67
percent of their post-war babies were born with severe birth defects."
military has phased out DU completely and the US and British Royal
Navy are currently in the process. It is about time, since
"The U.S. government has known for at least 20 years that DU
weapons produce clouds of poison gas on impact."
be thinking about creating mobile robots to help detect and suck up
this terrible permanent
radioactive debris. We should also think about over-weighting R&D
dollars for robotic research in other peaceful areas that provide
a clear value proposition in the free market and provide a real benefit
The U.S. invaded
Iraq on the pretext
of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which it did
not find. However, Dr. Yagasaki Katsuma of the University of the
Ryukyus, Japan, cites an estimate that in Gulf War I alone the U.S.
released between 14,000
to 36,000 times more radiation on Iraq than when it dropped the
atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Multiply that by five for Gulf War II and
we can discern a de facto "dirty nuke" nuclear war on Iraq,
fought to ostensibly help save the area from nonexistent nukes. In
many ways DU is worse than conventional nukes, because the radioactive
byproducts fail to step down in half lives over periods of weeks,
months, or even a few years.
Various powerful "neo-conservatives"
have generated disastrous "blow
back" from their military use of uranium,
not to mention their
use of torture
(and other issues).
They have already inflicted heavy direct damage on Iraqi infrastructure
and incalculable indirect
human costs (such as through famine, disease, and lost productivity)
between Gulf War I and Gulf War II by unleashing vast waves of primitive
robot attacks, also known as cruise missile strikes.
What level of
fractured wisdom can we expect in the future if we grant our "leaders"
arbitrary power to deploy far more deadly and sophisticated killer
Obviously we can
not afford to trust government to do our robot-related thinking for
us. This should not be a surprise. One can go back to the American
Revolution, or go back even further to Anglo Saxon traditions, pre-Christian
Norse Althings of Iceland, and the democracies of ancient Greece to
find the sentiment that centralized government and autocracy over
the long run have tended to be more of the problem than the solution.
We should think
for ourselves even under the best of circumstances.
In the future
we will need to do some hard thinking in at least three areas. One
area will always involve developing better overall social policy and
electing more worthy human leaders to uphold it. The second area involves
creating a better community around us, to include finding people who
support our resistance to tyranny. The third area, new to human events,
will involve redefining our relationship towards increasingly intelligent
and autonomous robotic systems.
How do we define
the robot's proper role in society? While creating more autonomous
and capable robots, how do we also define ethical robot behavior and
create "kinder and gentler" or at least less dangerous and
more predictable robots? How do we reconcile our own human nature
with their machine nature?
For the remainder
of this article I will address three broad strategies for dealing
with these issues.
One strategy involves
trying to create better decision rules for programming ethical behavior.
The second strategic
area involves trying to achieve better human-robot integration.
strategy involves understanding ways that we as humans can never be
like robots, and how we must understand our own innermost nature first
to ultimately stay in control of both ourselves and our machines.
with social issues through better programming logic
Robot provides a good starting point to explore ethical issues
involved in human-robot relations. The setting is in Chicago in the
the movie we are told about robot laws laid down in Isaac Asimov's
science fiction novel I,
Robot: These Sunday School rules are supposed to make robots
fail-safe so that they can never hurt humans and only benefit society.
must never hurt humans
2) Robots must obey all orders from humans, except where they violate
.... the first rule
3) Robots can protect themselves, except where they violate any
.... preceding rules.
the movie we have a flashback scene where the movie's protagonist,
detective Del Spooner, describes a situation where Asimov's robot
laws have become too simple and inflexible.
involved in an auto accident where his car and another car got thrown
off a bridge. The two cars wound up near each other while resting
on the bottom of a river. As the cars were filling with water, a little
blond girl trapped inside the other car about fifteen feet away signaled
to the detective through her window. Then a rescue robot suddenly
appeared, smashed the detective's window, reached inside, and hauled
the detective to the surface.
recounts after his flashback that he was the only one who survived.
The triage/rescue robot was forced to make a choice between him and
the little girl. The robot calculated that the black detective had
a better chance of survival and so it selected him. However, by making
that choice, it helped kill the little white girl through an act of
caused me to have my own flashback experience regarding a business
policy class I took in business school back in 1984. The professor
explained that all modes of ethical decision-making have been divided
by certain philosophers into three categories.
area involves duty-based ethics, in which individual actions are judged
by the extent to which they obey fixed rules.
area involves contractual ethics, in which individual actions are
judged by the extent to which they live up their contractual agreements.
area involves utilitarian ethics, in which individual actions are
judged on a cost-benefit basis by the extent to which they yield the
greatest net gain or the lowest net loss.
As the business
class explored various ethical issues in different case studies, I
discovered that this three part categorization is a very useful way
to sort out and analyze ethical problems. In regard to the movie I,
Robot, the triage/rescue robot was clearly using utilitarian
logic. Obviously Asimov's duty based rules were too inflexible. In
a mass casualty situation, an emergency rescue robot acting with very
limited resources can not function effectively if it becomes confused
by the fact that no matter what it does, its acts of omission may
virtually guarantee death for certain people.
One of the
teaching points in the business policy class was that there is no
one particular ethical approach that works in all situations. The
best ethical decisions typically reflect some blending of all three
We need to
consider ways to modify Asimov's language to reflect both contractual
logic and utilitarian logic. Two possible approaches are provided
involves not only negotiating and living up to contracts, but also
defining "conditions" regarding existing rules. We might
expect contractual instruction code lines to contain "if-then,"
"provided that," and "subject to" language that
define the covenants that must remain in force to avoid breach of
contract. The following might serve as some possible hypothetical
must never hurt humans, provided that the humans in question
not designated as "enemy combatants" in time of declared
not meet other exclusionary tests.
2) Robots must obey all orders from humans if such humans show that
.... have proper controlling authorization and demonstrate sane
3) Robots can protect themselves with varying levels of non-lethal
.... proportional to the threat against them provided that they
.... violated by people who lack controlling authorization
and who meet
.... various tests for probable criminal behavior.
4) [Miscellaneous other instructions perhaps at least the size of
of a small
.... law library that condition other rules and regulations].
contractual and utilitarian systems tend to be much more complex and
require far more autonomous decision-making ability than duty-based
systems. It would probably help to use some kind of neural net program
to help weigh and resolve code lines that overlap or conflict with
each other in certain situations.
Moving on to utilitarian logic, we might see various types of maximization-minimalization
language, such as the following hypothetical instruction lines:
will maximize the number of human lives saved in a mass
emergency medical situation and minimize the number of
... lives lost.
2) Robots must give highest priority to orders from humans that
.... profitability in running manufacturing operations while
3) Robots can protect themselves in self defense as long as they
.... the medical injury costs they inflict on their attackers
and minimize potential
.... legal liability for their owners while optimizing
defense of their own value as
.... private property.
4) [Miscellaneous other instructions spanning a wide variety of
.... areas, operational scenarios, and social situations]
I, Robot goes on to show an instance where combining all
the ethical approaches does not provide all the answers either.
have been created by a company headquartered in downtown Chicago.
The firm maintains a master computer system that can control the robots
it has manufactured through wireless communication. This master computer
has utilitarian programming, much like the emergency rescue robots,
and by implication it also has duty-based and contractual programming
computer decides that humans are grossly mishandling their own affairs.
In order to serve the greater long term good of human society, the
master computer decides to carry out a robot take-over.
Del Spooner and other citizens of Chicago instinctively resist the
robo-putsch, but what really saves the day for them is the assistance
of a renegade robot that previously obeyed an order by a human to
help him commit suicide. This renegade robot now resists a direct
order from the master computer in order to support the human fight
for freedom against robo-rule.
renegade robot ultimately helps humans vanquish the master computer,
it becomes a hero. Humans now begin to address "it" as "he"
and allow it to walk around on its own without being bundled back
in crates with ordinary robots. The film shows a mass of robots looking
up at this robo-Moses as it ascends a hill on its own.
Those of us
in the audience who are poorly attuned to leftist Hollywood mysticism
were left to puzzle over what all of this is supposed to mean.
mystical process, by having some kind of programming logic that supports
some kind of ultimate "freedom" for humans, our robo-Tin
Man now has some kind of "heart." Does this suggest that
some day some special interest groups might try to add robots to America's
"Liberal-Minority Coalition?" Will we one day see a "gay
robot agenda?" and "robot affirmative action" and become
conditioned to speak softly lest we be accused of "ugly anti-robotism"
or of harboring "beingist" attitudes?
might laugh, but the sad truth is that if cunningly malevolent robots
with human-level intelligence ever become powerful enough to influence
the ability of people to obtain and hold jobs, quite a few people
will bend their speech and attitudes to accommodate their new masters.
As I stated
Five, the character of automation in a society typically reflects
the character of the underlying human society itself. In viewing the
car accident scene with the little blond girl and the black detective,
I was left to wonder what sort of utilitarian programming logic might
have been involved if this were apartheid South Africa, or if it involved
a different scenario with an Arab girl in one car and an Israeli West
Bank settler in the other car, and a triage robot programmed by either
Al Qaeda or the Likud Party arrived at the scene.
We are not
given a detailed fact situation regarding the motivation of the master
computer to take over human society. Imagine if the computer were
alerted to deranged, suicidal, or criminal human leaders who were
in the process of launching an unnecessary and suicidal nuclear war
or installing a murderous tyranny over America, in which case using
robots to seize control to throw these tyrants out of power might
create conditions required to hand control back to humans who respect
liberty. Under this new scenario, the unpredictable renegade robot
that disobeyed the master computer's plan might be viewed as a corrupted
system worthy of being junked rather than as a "respectable"
ally of human freedom. The master computer might then be viewed as
a digital patriot rather than as a Stalinist device.
Or would it
be wiser to take the position that when a high-level situation gets
that complicated, all computers and robots involved should be programmed
to remain neutral until humans sort things out?
must never be trumped by computers under any circumstances. Realistically,
this may become hard to enforce as increasing levels of intelligence
make robots more autonomous, and also as humans inevitably enlist
robots for covert operations to infiltrate, spy on, and disrupt their
As we look
at these scenarios, we see that placing robots on autonomous autopilot
to solve ethical problems by applying some combination of duty based,
contractual, or utilitarian logic is not enough. We are back to a
question that I raised earlier in this series, namely how do we define
the heart that we put into
successful human-robot integration
Three of this series I mentioned prosthetic research that is enhancing
the man-robot interface. The April 2002 MIT Technology Review
of the Robots," contained the following dialog with Dr. Rodney
Brooks, head of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence
:"Your new book Flesh
and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us argues that the
distinctions between man and machine will be irrelevant some day.
What does that mean?"
Brooks: "Technologies are being developed that
interface our nervous systems directly to silicon. For example,
tens of thousands of people have cochlear implants where electrical
signals stimulate neurons so they can hear again. Researchers at
the A.I. Lab are experimenting with direct interfacing to nervous
systems to build better prosthetic legs and bypass diseased parts
of the brain. Over the next 30 years or so we are going to put more
and more robotic technology into our bodies. We'll start to merge
with the silicon and steel of our robots. We'll also start to build
robots using biological materials. The material of us and the material
of our robots will converge to be one and the same, and the sacred
boundaries of our bodies will be breached. This is the crux of my
Planet" is coming?
In his Nov 2003 MIT Technology
Review article "Toward
a Brain-Internet Link," Dr. Brooks also stated:
...the 1999 efforts of
Chapin and Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University...enabled rats to
mentally induce a robot arm to release water. First, a computer
recorded the patterns of neural firing in key areas of the rats'
brains when the rodents pressed a lever that controlled the robot
arm. Once the computer learned the neural pattern associated with
lever-pushing, it moved the robot arm when it detected the rats
merely `thinking' about doing so. In later versions of this technology,
monkeys were able to control a more sophisticated robot arm as though
it were their own.
As other interesting examples,
portions of rat brains kept in a petrie dish environment and connected
with electrodes have also been used to control
flight simulators and guide
small robots. Professor John Donoghue at Brown University played
a key role in creating a chip produced by Cyberkinetics
that has been implanted inside the brains of paralyzed humans to allow
them to mentally
control cursors on monitors and perform such functions as changing
Dr. Brooks prefaced this
Technology Review article by stating;
A few weeks ago I was
brushing my teeth and trying to remember who made `La Bamba' a big
hit back in the late 1950s. I knew the singer had died in a plane
crash with Buddy Holly. If I'd been downstairs I would have gone
straight to Google. But even if I'd had a spoken-language Internet
interface in the bathroom, my mouth was full of toothpaste. I realized
that what I really want is an implant in my head, directly coupled
into my brain, providing a wireless Internet connection.
In my line of work, an
effective brain-computer interface is a perennial vision. But I'm
starting to think that by 2020 we might actually have wireless Internet
interfaces that ordinary people will feel comfortable having implanted
in their heads-just as ordinary people are today comfortable with
going to the mall to have laser eye surgery. All the signs -early
experimental successes, societal demand for improved health care,
and military research thrusts- point in that direction.
Rather than man vs. robot,
Dr. Brooks sees man integrating himself with robotic functions, and
upgrading his own level of intelligence to stay in control of his
Imagine if you could not
only not only mentally link into a supercomputer to find out the maker
of a song while you are brushing your teeth, but can also have the
supercomputer teach you a conversational level of a foreign language
as you drive to work in the morning or sleep at night. Imagine if
you were mentally linked to a robot in your house that grants your
wish to have a beer brought to you from your refrigerator.
Imagine surfing by mental
wireless on a supercomputer built by robots the size of a mountain
here on earth that holds the equivalent of several gadzillion Libraries
of Congress. In many ways we are already rapidly moving in that direction
with the myriad numbers of computers linked by the Internet.
Intuitively, we would seem
to need various types of step-down mechanisms to accommodate the biological
limitations of our gray matter. I am thinking about that scene in
the movie The
Forbidden Planet, where a crewman who tried to boost his
IQ beyond its physical bounds ended up making the ultimate sacrifice.
In addition, we would probably need various filters against viral
Like I said near the beginning
of this series, robotics is ultimately about putting together mechanical
things, computers, and artificial intelligence in ways
that are almost beyond imagination. However, to put things in perspective,
we may need to remember that technology is really nothing more than
a tool that leverages capabilities. As an example, we already have
problems with human organizations so filled with "yes men"
that they are incapable of resisting tyranny. We already suffer informational
"viral" attacks in the form of deceitful religious and political
propaganda. The new technologies will simply take both the good things
and bad things we have to deal with today and vastly amplify them.
Dr. Rodney Brook's
Artificial Intelligence Lab has also been involved in creating convergence
on an emotional-interactive level as well as on the intellectual level.
One of the more famous examples is Kismet, now resident
in the MIT
Dr. Cynthia Breazeal developed
Kismet as a Phd thesis while she was a former student of Dr. Brooks. Kismet
could not understand specific words. However, its speech recognition
software could screen pitch variations to recognize four emotional
states. This is the level of cognition of human infants.
Kismet could understand
approval, prohibition, attention-getting, and soothing. The program
instilled in Kismet included a behavioral drive to achieve mood
balance, which was a combination of three variables: valence (happiness),
arousal (tired or stimulated), and stance (openness to new stimuli),
all of which was translated by servomotors to the robot's eyebrows,
lips, and ears.
The mood of the robot also
affected how its eyes tracked objects and its ears curled up and down.
The robot was programmed to respond to the emotional content of the
input of its human partner by uttering syllables. It engaged in turn-taking
with a human partner based on such cues as pauses, gaze shifts, and
awkward silences. It interacted on an emotional pitch level without
understanding the meaning of specific words spoken to it or the words
that it uttered. (Brooks, Flesh
and Machines, pages 92-95).
Interestingly enough, in
regard to the topic of decentralized intelligence or "subsumption
architecture" discussed in Part
Three, Kismet had a set of fifteen computers controlling it, many
running on different operating systems such as QNX, Linux, and Windows
NT written by Dr. Brooks. According to Dr. Brooks (F&M,
p. 92), “There was no one computer in control, but rather different
computers moved different parts of the face and eyes….Kismet
was truly a distributed control system with no central command."
Reinforcing the point that
all knowledge is interrelated, I can not help but be reminded of economic
analyses that show how decentralized, laissez-faire systems that maximize
human liberty are typically more flexible, responsive, and efficient
planning. Dr. Brooks has demonstrated an analogous engineering
approach with his robots.
Despite the decentralized
design, many observers of Kismet's interactions thought they were
dealing with a completely integrated entity. The human need to “fill
in the gaps” and “anthropomorphize” is so great
that many humans found that they were adapting more to the robot than
the other way around.
Dr. Brooks likes to wryly
observe that humans not only tend to "anthropomorphize"
robots, but that humans tend to overly anthropomorphize each other.
Since the word "anthropomorphize" means "to make human,"
one might immediately ask how one can overly "humanize"
I interpret Dr. Brook's
provocative comment to mean that the human personality often consists
of sub-modules of habit, reflexes, instincts, imitative behaviors,
and opportunistic tendencies clumped together. As I discussed in Part
Three, we rely on vast libraries of visual, audio, and experiential
behavioral "models" that have been layered on each other
In his book Flesh
and Machines (page 174) Dr. Brooks reveals a very deterministic
view of the world. He wrote:
..The body, this mass
of biomolecules, is a machine that acts according to a set of specifiable
rules...We are machines, as are our spouses, our children, and our
dogs...I believe myself and my children to all be mere machines.
But this is not how I
treat them. I treat them in a very special way, and I interact with
them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional
love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.
Like a religious scientist, I maintain two sets of inconsistent
beliefs and act on each of them in different circumstances.
words, Dr. Brooks has a heart. He has healthy instincts as well as
rational faculties. This brings us to the last section of this paper.
WITH THE MOST DANGEROUS "ROBOTS" OF ALL
HELLO SOCIOBIOLOGY, MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, AND BEHAVIORAL GENETICS)
that the ultimate scare story does not take place when we look at
the cutaway face of My Real Baby Doll and see the underlying machinery
(depicted near the beginning of Part
Five). Instead, I believe that what really scares people is when
you take man himself and expose the genetic side to his nature, and
then explore the full ramifications.
to the Wizard of Oz allegory, the field of human genetics is what
ultimately defines the heart that we give to Tin Man and the courage
we give to Cowardly Lion. We must know how our genotypes evolved and
where they came from on both an individual and tribal level before
we can begin to understand ourselves. To refer back to my discussion
of robot modules in Part
Three, genetics comprise the ultimate bottom-up "subsumption
liberal national media tend to flip-flop back and forth on genetic
issues. Sometimes national publications carry articles claiming that
genetic interpretations of human behavior or social history are "discredited,"
while at other times one sees articles claiming that the academic
community is more convinced than ever regarding the role of genetics
in just about everything. As an example, Dan Seligman’s May
12, 2003 Forbes article: “Professor
Rothman Strikes Again,” stated,
IQ Controversy: The Media and Public Policy (1988), Rothman
and Mark Snyderman collected data showing that the press overwhelmingly
attributed IQ differences in the population to various cultural
artifacts. The authors also surveyed 661 experts –academic
psychologists, cognitive scientists, test specialists –who
decisively rejected these cultural explanations and collectively
stated that some 60% of IQ variance reflected the different genes
of the high and low scorers.
In other words,
national media teach us to overly anthropomorphize and homogenize
humans on an individual, tribal, racial, and global level. National
media approach this topic with the same level of unreality that neo-conservatives
approach such topics as regime
change and depleted uranium.
helps to provide an answer to the ultimate human-robot interface issue
viewpoint forces us to distinguish between subjective knowledge
(that which is instinctive in nature) and objective knowledge
(that which we can verify by the scientific method). As an example,
the will to live and procreate are both subjective in nature. The
genes that give rise to their expression exist not because they have
inherent meaning, but merely because they have survived. Science can
tell us how things work and how to do things, but not why.
"Why" connotes meaning. "Why" includes "why"
it is worth taking the risks involved in the scientific process
to speak logically and truthfully in public as opposed to taking the
more secure route of never saying anything that might contradict or
hurt the feelings of people in power. I discuss in greater detail
Four the need for truthfulness to promote innovation in technology
is instinctive and based upon evolutionary survival of particular
genes, robots currently do not qualify. They lack an organic drive.
Therefore, we have a paradox. On the one hand, the closer man comes
to becoming like a robot by hybridizing the organic parts of his brain
and body with mechanical devices, or by linking mechanical devices
to genes, the more he shows higher technological accomplishment that
has meaning for the scientific community. On the other hand, the more
an individual person becomes like a robot across all functional areas,
the more this emergent creature begins to lose its instinctive drives.
Then everything begins to lose its meaning. I would expect such a
creature to begin to subjectively care less and less about whether
it exists or not. As an example, I can not imagine how I would feel
"human" if the glands that produce adrenalin and other hormones
in my body were replaced with inorganic materials.
--the most dangerous "robot" of all?
It is hard
to imagine a better allegory than The Forbidden Planet to
make some very important points that address this question.
For the uninitiated,
this science fiction classic centers on Dr. Edward Morbius, who is
found by an exploratory expedition from earth on a planet in which
he is alone with his daughter Altaira and their all-purpose robot
named Robby. Dr. Morbius came to the planet with an earlier earth
expedition, but every member of that crew except himself and his daughter
perished for mysterious reasons.
with this daughter on the planet, Dr. Morbius was able to master an
extremely advanced technological infrastructure left over by an extinct
race. We find out later that this race learned how to control extremely
powerful forces through forms of mental wireless communication, and
that the malevolent side of their nature led to fratricidal warfare
and their ultimate suicide. We find out that Dr. Morbius has also
harnessed a mind-over-matter robotic capability. Unfortunately, he
too is out of touch with his subconscious.
Morbius sleeps, his subconscious resentment of the invasion of his
secret world unleashes destructive forces, killing members of the
earth expedition. But Dr. Morbius' aggressive "Id" force
is just one part of the instinctive-genetic underpinnings to his human
nature. He also holds affiliative, nurturant, and procreative instincts
(resulting in his daughter, of course) that also function deep within
his subconscious. Overlaying this in his conscious behavior are his
duty-based, contractual, and utilitarian decision-making capabilities.
Some of Dr.
Morbius' basic individualized instinctive traits such as hunger and
satiation might be explained using individualized Darwinian selective
models. Other opposing innate traits such as altruism and symbiosis
on the one hand and aggression and parasitism on the other require
much broader "group" or sociobiological
models. All of these factors tug at each other and create a resultant
vector that put Dr. Morbius in sharp conflict with other humans on
the planet. His internal conflicts become so ferociously leveraged
by advanced technology that they create massive and irreparable damage.
subconscious was able to launch only a half-hearted attack on the
earth expedition. It ended up killing only a few crewmen and failed
to destroy the space ship. Perhaps his ambivalence came from recognition
of the fact that his daughter needed to meet up with other humans
in order to find a husband. One of the leaders of the expedition might
have provided the best chance for Dr. Morbius to have quality grandchildren
and achieve long term genetic survival. However, once Dr. Morbius
became consciously aware of his Id monster, he realized that he might
be condemned for the murder of crew members of both the first and
second earth expeditions, and that furthermore he possessed destructive
technology that might be too advanced for humans to handle wisely
in their current stage of evolution. Perhaps out of panic, concern
about technological abuse, a personal death wish, a desire to avoid
living with public shame --or some combination of any of these or
other possible factors, he launched a full blown attack on himself
and ultimately his planet. At the same time, he gave his daughter
and the earth crew adequate time to escape. Like the Reverend Jim
Jones in Guyana, he found himself in a very bad situation, and
ultimately decided to act as his own local governor, psychiatrist,
social worker, judge, jury, and catastrophic self-executioner.
bigger problem in defining what is "human" and what is "robotic"
is that individual humans can vary greatly on a biological basis,
and in the way in which they resolve conscious and subconscious forces.
They not only vary in terms of their individual characteristics, but
also on a broader genetic level, to include the tribal and racial
level. Some genetic traits relative to other groups might be considered
alien (significantly deviant from ones gene pool on a tribal level),
mutant (deviant on an individual level), or even parasitic (a term
very loosely synonymous with "criminal").
have within themselves undesirable innate traits that they do not
want to admit to either themselves or society at large. Their will
to live may be so deviant that it might even carry some type of death
wish. Many people have fractured personalities in which they seek
to maximize personal power and pleasure on a conscious level, yet
on a subconscious level they hate themselves for their deficiencies
or deviance. In fact, such people may even subconsciously feel that
there are logical reasons to terminate themselves from the gene pool.
It is beyond
the scope of this article to try to explain possible evolutionary
mechanics behind deviant genes that express alien, mutant, parasitic,
or suicidal traits. But no doubt these
dimensions greatly complicate our ability to define the "human"
side of the human-robot interface, and our ability to define the heart
we want for Tin Man or the courage for Cowardly Lion.
of genetic variation that exists in the real world should also make
us more vigilant regarding humans who wind up in leadership positions
in our society. For starters, we must learn not to "overly anthropomorphize"
people who have the power to take away our liberty. In fact, there
may be people in high places in our society today with highly fractured
personalities. It is possible that real life people may act similarly
to the fictional Dr. Morbius. They may become cataclysmically destructive
once they fully realize how their fractured innate nature has had
a hand in running down America over the past several decades. They
may seek to divert attention and find ways to tighten their control
in America by covertly fueling internal security problems and by drawing
this country into various external conflicts.
ways to structure a social order that can wisely handle advanced technology,
I would argue for economically and politically decentralized societies
in which people are free to express their natural tendency to associate
with their own kind. It is much easier for us to observe and judge
the character of our neighbors and people in power if we share a similar
"gut" and "head." It is also much easier for people
in power to feel a sense of shared values and responsibility in smaller
and more homogeneous societies. Lastly, there is a greater chance
that adjacent societies can provide "checks and balances"
and competing models of freedom if they can remain independent and
thereby avoid absorption into an imperial collective.
it is much harder to discern fractured and malevolent personalities
if we are forcefully integrated into an imperial order and are ruled
by politicians, central bankers, and media bosses in far off places
with alien backgrounds who are good at being all things to all people
while slyly pursuing agendas that might be alien or destructive to
our interests. These types of people are the last ones that I would
want to empower with arbitrary control of "infinite
numbers of myrmidons -robotic warriors."
now to explain a final social issue...
the beginning of Part
One I mentioned that I think both the overall stock market and
the tech sector are due for a very serious correction. I also mentioned
that I greatly prefer the precious metals and other commodity-related
areas at this time.
this viewpoint, the reader may wonder why I have gone to this effort
to research certain robot companies if the sector is still very premature
from a publicly traded stock investment perspective.
me begin by explaining that I expect precious metals prices to skyrocket
once both the general public and foreign holders of America's debt
accept the fact that America is no longer credit-worthy. Before the
dam finally breaks, our central bankers and their Wall Street and
national media allies will probably completely exhaust all the resources
they have available to continue manipulating markets and maintaining
walls of illusion. I discuss underlying market-related aspects behind
this in more detail in Part
Three of my gold series.
enterprise and commodities may not in fact be mutually exclusive in
certain areas. In an effort to research ways that robotic technological
development can benefit from the continued commodities bull market
that I see ahead, I created another paper titled "Mining
and Robotics." I believe that the natural resource area will
be one of the few industrial sectors that can support advanced robotic
research in the hard stagflationary times that will probably dominate
the next decade.
better grasp the strategic nature of advanced robotic research, and
why it is so important to find industries with the means to support
it, simply ask yourself how you would feel if you discovered fifteen
to twenty years from now that a hostile country has millions of robots
with a human level of intelligence that are in turn producing millions
of other robots at an accelerating rate, and we have nothing that
comes even close to this.
deep macro fundamentals
opportunities in contrarian industries, we need to remember that the
underlying story behind gold and other key commodities is unfortunately
part of a tragic broader story.
Dr. Paul Craig
Roberts observed in "Watching
the Economy Disintegrate" that, "The last two years
have seen startling declines in American higher education enrollments
in electrical and computer engineering, as American youth looks to
non-tradable domestic services for employment stability." In
his article "America's
Has-Been Economy," Dr.
Roberts also mentioned the other half of a cruel vicious circle,
where the Bureau of Labor reported a net loss of 221,000 jobs in six
major engineering job classifications in the last five years due to
In his 30 Oct
2004 Financial Sense Newshour
update, James Puplava noted that in the last two decades the financial
services sector has increased from 5% to 25% of S&P Sectors. I
view all of this as symptomatic of an extremely imbalanced economy.
From my own experiences
in the FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance,
and REal estate), I have observed huge philosophical
differences between the nature of FIRE and engineering jobs and their
Most people in the financial
services area deal with products that relate risk to the prospect
of eventual cash flows. These products are usually very removed in
time and feedback channels from objective verification. Many people
in the industry "succeed" by functioning like roving evangelists,
in which dream-spinning is more important than actual results in order
to bring in financial assets and generate fee or transactional income.
In this world of "intangibles," there is tremendous pressure
to maintain a perfect guru image and avoid being associated with any
form of failure or "problems" at all costs.
It is also important to
note that in overcrowded FIRE jobs, a speculative "devil-take-the-hindmost"
attitude has become widely accepted to help create more transactions.
If a stock is overvalued, people think nothing about running it higher
and dumping it on a "greater fool." However, this national
sport of intangible and impersonal hot potato creates a conflict of
interest where the holder of a good has an incentive to withhold his
best information from customers, as he seeks to pawn off bad values
at even worse values to them.
The engineering world generally
has a completely different orientation. It is specifically focused
on identifying real problems and overcoming them in ways that have
objective verification. Secondly, it is focused on creating real and
useful products. The producer has an incentive to educate customers
about true value fundamentals with his best information in ways that
are win-win for everyone.
In short, a major problem
in America is that we have too many bright people in the financial
services sector working full time to sell intangible fantasies and
subtly defraud others, and too few bright people creating real and
useful tradable goods that create a win-win situation for everyone.
"We have now sunk
to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of
intelligent men," said
George Orwell, who added:
"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary
I have found it refreshing
to spend time describing the positives of robot yang to offset
the negatives of gold yin, and restate what most readers
already intuitively know, namely that
the robot story symbolizes the vanguard of advanced automation, the
continuing industrial revolution, and all that is still innovative
and right about America.
concerns and reservations that I have expressed in this series, I
believe that overall, in a healthy society, automation and new technology
should always be a very good thing.
is no different than with cowboys and farmers. Robots and humans
should be friends. (Forbidden
Planet actress Anne Francis as Altaira Morbius having a round
with dance pal Robby. Copyright © 2004 Anne Francis. Please
visit her web site at www.annefrancis.net).