Robots are everywhere in some form or another and they have become essential in many industries. Most robots are relatively simple in their functions, most obviously in the likes of manufacturing and production. Others are becoming more and more advanced and complex in their capabilities.
The development of artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a big part in robots becoming more versatile and adaptive, with their ability to gather and analyze data and react accordingly. It is not quite the AI of sci-fi yet, but it is not difficult to imagine it getting there at some point in the future.
Artificial Intelligence or Artificial Life?
In truth, AI is simply the name assigned to a robotic function involving the analysis and calculation of massive amounts of data, and doesn’t actually mean the AI that fiction writers would have you believe will be taking over the world imminently.
The thing is, making decisions based on data is exactly what we humans ourselves do. You could also argue that our upbringing and education are equivalent to a robot’s programming, as well as all our life experiences which inform and influence how we react to stimuli.
So, at what point does artificial intelligence become artificial life? At what point does artificial life become human?
Robots are increasingly being used for seemingly human-necessary jobs, such as robotic waiting staff and apple pickers. Robotic engineers are also creating robots with more and more likeness to us than ever before. If they can get so close already, then there will come a time when we cannot tell a robot and real human apart just by eye alone.
We would need to interact with it, as emotion must be one of the major factors that distinguish a human from a robot, no matter how human the robot looks.
That would be fine, except artificial emotion is already happening too. AI and machine learning already make it possible to robots to respond appropriately to human emotion, even if they still lack self-awareness.
Our Fascination with Humanoid Robots
While we can all name a few humanoid robots or androids from recent TV shows and movies, the basic concept of such being’s dates back much further than the silver screen. Ancient Greek mythology often featured talking or animated statues made of bronze or clay, while nineteenth century fiction features numerous examples of mechanical men and women.
Many of the ancient examples were monsters to be feared or defeated by a brave protagonist, but as we moved into the twentieth century, writers increasingly began using the humanoid robot as a metaphor for various aspects of humanity itself. They became more sympathetic, more human, although the feared AI overlords that try to destroy us all remains a constant trope.
Works of the last 50 years or so have often used robots and their ilk to ask questions about what it really means to be human. From the Stepford Wives to the Terminator, from Data in Star Trek to Bishop in Alien, from the original Westworld’s unrelenting killer to the television reboot’s self-aware hosts; humanoid robots continue to fascinate us. Most likely because what we see in them reflects ourselves.
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