Human Robots?

The recent development of advanced computers capable of performing tasks at the same level as their human makers has opened up a whole raft of questions and the making of many sci-fi films.

After having watched four artificial intelligence films, A.I., Bicentennial Man, Transcendence and 2001: A Space Odyssey, questions popped up in my mind:

Is it possible for something made of silicon, wire and metal to have a mind and be like a human? If it is possible should we fear this process?

In the film A.I., a robot named David, an adopted child to a human family, has the capacity to “love” and he displays analytic ability to figure out how to get his “mother’s” love.

In Bicentennial Man, Andrew, the slave robot, wants the freedom and equality of a human.

So, what distinguishes a robot from a human at this point in time?

Humans have emotions, feelings and consciousness.

Robots don’t.

Humans are organic, flesh and bone, robots are made of metal, chips and wire.

Humans think, robots are programed.

In the future will we let the A. I. genie out of the bottle? Maybe there was a time when nuclear weapons could have been avoided, but we let the genie out of the bottle and now they are here to stay. Now, we are at the same position with A.I. What are the consequences of the continued development of intelligent robots?

Humans are conscious. Can a robot be conscious?

Consciousness means awareness of what we are sensing and what we are doing. This is internal monitoring. Robots don’t have this consciousness.

Are human machines possible?

Humans are aware of their surroundings, senses and what they are doing, plus they are intelligent.

An intelligent but unconscious being is a “zombie”. If we made lots of intelligent machines we would be facing a world full of zombies!

A robot has no internal mental world, no consciousness. We probably will be able to build “thinking” computers, but they would still be a zombie, an unconscious thinker!

The other day I watched a film called, “Transcendence”, where a scientist uploads his mind, his consciousness, to a computer. This is an interesting concept, capturing a person’s mind on the software of a computer. But it’s scary in that you would be reduced to a long list of binary numbers! Not quite human is it?

Apparently, there’s no limit to how smart a computer can become. They could become smarter than humans and then how do we control these machines?

Can we duplicate the human brain, or consciousness? The brain isn’t just electrical. It has a deep structure, billions of neurons and trillions of connections (synapses). As far as consciousness goes, we don’t even have a theory of consciousness, so it is still a mystery.

I always thought the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was a marvelous sci-fi movie. But will it be science fact in the future? It certainly was very philosophical. The story follows Nietzsche’s magnum opus “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. The story goes from apes to humans to the “overman”, a futuristic being who looks at humanity as humanity now looks at the apes. The film tells the same story beginning with ape-men, then going through humanity, and finishing up with the “Star Child”, a planet-sized super intelligent baby.

In the film there is a computer called “Hal”, a powerful form of artificial intelligence. Hal can sense things and he runs the space ship. He thinks he is superior to humans. Hal is evil!

Should we be frightened of these super intelligent robots? The astronauts were. Hal wanted to get rid of the crew and he does except for astronaut Bowman.

Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” So we have to find another meaning to life. The whole film leads us to the “Star Child”, which was designed and directed by a race of aliens. These aliens have designed humans to become intelligent through technology. They direct Bowman, the surviving astronaut, to be transformed into the “Star Child”, the new supreme intelligence.

In the end, the death of God is achieved through science.

Whatever happens in the future, and it could be very scary, these films are incredibly interesting and enlightening.

But for the moment lets enjoy the present.

As the adage says:

“Fear of the future is a waste of the present.”

Being Alone

He lived alone. I was his self-appointed part-time carer, sounding board and friend. But he needed none of these, as he often said. He was the most self-reliant man I ever knew, who loved his solitude for his thinking time. His mind was his companion and he was happy.

I lived in the same apartment building. I used to visit him ever so often, to give him some company and to do things for him. That was when he turned 78 years old and his legs were giving out on him. He hobbled around the apartment with a stick. At this time he had been living alone for 30 years.

He told me he was an only child, he used to play by himself and he got used to his own company and he enjoyed it. He liked being alone with his own thoughts.

He lost his parents early, his father when he was 15, his mother when he was 25. Then he was an orphan. His wife died when he was 48 years old. That’s when his real solitude started.

We had many good conversations, he had solid opinions on everything. He watched a lot of news on the TV and he read all the newspapers. His apartment was lined with bookshelves filled with non-fiction and fiction.

“You know all I hear and read is the media shouting at me. They try to inform you but all they do is leave you on the fence, undecided and confused.”

“What do you do to rectify that?” I said.

“Well, I don’t accept everything I hear and read, so I’m left with my own thinking. I often wonder, if I can trust my thinking. My intellect is limited but with a lot of things I use common sense and logic acquired over the years. But lately, the world seems to have gone crazy!”

“I know there is a lot of injustice and unfairness in the world.”

“That’s right, I’ve been disappointed so much through the years. I almost expect disappointment as a way of life. I cannot conceive of a world run the way it should be run.”

“Maybe you’re expecting too much from the world,” I countered.

“I get disgusted when the people I meet all think in terms of the accumulation of goods and power. If I have more than you, I am better than you. Think of the drunken bum, who never worked a day in his life. Then he wins the lottery. Now, he is an eccentric millionaire. No longer a drunken bum. He now, has power and recognition. Has he changed? Not really, but he’s accepted as a superior being now.”

“Well, I read a columnist in the paper the other day and he said…”

The old man interrupted me.

“See, this is another thing that aggravates me. My father lived through the first World War, Prohibition and the Depression. He had his ideas about life. What came out of his mouth, was my father speaking out. When I listen to people today, so much of what they say is from other mouths. I tell them, I’m looking for you in your conversation, but I can’t find you!”

I got up to leave.

“Well, I’ll see you in a couple of days, old fella, you’re a real thinker,” I said, patting him on the shoulder.

“Yes, okay, I’ve got some thinking to do and I think best when I’m alone. But thanks for dropping in and giving me more inspiration to think.”

I left him smiling.

A couple of days later, I popped in to see the old fella.

“How are you today?”

“Okay I guess, but I spent an hour looking for my glasses. Finally found them, memory isn’t what it used to be. The joys of getting old.”

He seemed to be losing his short-term memory lately.

“Don’t you get restless and bored being alone most of the time?”

“Not me, I’ve got my thoughts to keep me busy.”

I shook my head.

“Don’t you get lonely?”

“Not me, son, I like my own company and my thinking time. I find when I have “me time”, I feel good.”

“But don’t you get tired of thinking about concepts and conundrums?”

“Not in the least, periods of solitude teach me to live with me, the one person I’ll never be apart from.”

“It seems to me too much solitude would be difficult and painful.”

“No, I find I need solitude to think. Being alone forces me to come to terms with every corner of my mind.”


The weeks went into months with the old fella telling me how happy he was with his own thoughts, feeding and exercising his brain with whatever problem he came across.

Then I left town for two years to work at another branch of my company. I often thought about the old man with his thoughts on solitude.

When I returned, I dropped in on him. I found him in a chair staring at the TV. There was a far away look in his eyes. Lots of books were strewn across the floor.

“My brain is black,” he mumbled.

“What’s that mean?”

The old man’s hands were shaking.

“It means my brain is dying and I am dying! My thoughts are all jumbled up, I can’t think clearly. I’ve lost my companion.”

I left his apartment feeling very sad and I was determined to get him some professional help.

The next day I visited him again. I knocked on the door, it opened a crack by itself. I walked in and found the old man slumped in his chair. There was a smile on his face. On the table next to him was an empty glass, two empty bottles of pills and a half empty bottle of whiskey.