Posts tagged ‘robot’
Our Ancestors and neighbors and Us–Homo Novo?
Joseph Ugoretz | April 17, 2010 | 4:00 pm | Who Are We? What is Human? | No comments

(Google has this little-known tool–so I made a quick “SearchStory“. Kind of fun, maybe a useful tool? You can try one. They are very quick and easy.)

We’ve talked in the past about the differences between training and education, and one difference we mentioned (or at least I mentioned it) was that “training” is something for animals. Education is for human beings.

But there’s a deeper question at the core of that distinction, and in this unit we can start to explore that deeper question. What does it mean to be a human being?

One way to begin defining a word or concept is to look at it differentially–to try to define what it’s not. There are several ways to slice up the concept of “human being.” Anthropologists and paleontologists look at our pre-human hominid ancestors (there’s a great timeline here). Sahelanthropus tchadensis (around 7-6 million years ago) really wouldn’t fit what we think of as “human” today. Homo neanderthalensis (200-28 thousand years ago) was a lot closer, and what we used to call “Cro-Magnon” is now pretty much accepted as “early Homo sapiens sapiens.”

So at some point between Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Homo sapiens sapiens some very important things changed.

And we can also slice the concept in terms of species–we have some very intelligent non-human neighbors today. Dolphins and chimpanzees are probably the closest to us, but my dog, Jerry, certainly thinks he’s a human being. And my cats are certain that they are superior to human beings.

Or we can go in another direction–a different kind of neighbors. Is an intelligent alien (probably not a Martian–but what about a Vulcan? A Romulan? an Overlord?) a human being?

And there’s yet another direction. The artificial beings–computer intelligences, cyborgs, androids–are they human?

So if we look at those various slices, we see that there are certain things that the non-human ancestors and the non-human neighbors don’t have, while the human ones do.

And if education is something for human beings–what is it about human beings that education is for?

In Yiddish, as I’m sure some of you know, the word mensch means a lot more than just a human being. To be a mensch is to be what a human being should be (Judaism has some pretty definite ideas about what qualities are included there–but what are your ideas?). And maybe that’s what education is for–to make us what we should be.

How can education take us to the place where we are the best that we can be?

The Machines in Our Lives
Joseph Ugoretz | March 27, 2010 | 1:16 pm | Technology Changes Us | No comments

The robot has become a commonplace not just of SF, but of general technological culture. From little toy dogs children play with, to the small pieces of software that help you search the web, to the machine that vacuums your floor while you are out running errands, to the highly synchronized, untiring extensible claw-arms of automobile factories, robots, both as real machines, and as characters and ideas, are everywhere.

The first use of the word, “robot,” was in the Czech play, R.U.R.robot from r.u.r.. The word “robot” in the play is derived from a Czech word meaning “servitude,” or “drudgery.” In the play, the robots end up rebelling against their masters. Once again, the role of these non-humans makes us think about how we treat, and how we see, the real humans around us–whether they serve, protect, think, feel, or rebel.

In the best SF stories, rebellion is always a possibility. In good SF, the robot is a fully self-aware and active subject. Although created by humans, these robots are true characters, with intelligence and emotions. They consider their own nature, and their own roles.

Isaac Asimov may be said to be the father of the modern robot in SF. His “Three Laws of Robotics:”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being
    to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders
    would confict with a higher order law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict
    with a higher order law.

neatly illustrate the human anxieties about the dangers of technology, along with its benefits, which are inherent in all the robot stories.

So we love these machines, we hate them, we’re scared of them, we appreciate them.

But what about the machines in your life? Have you ever named a car? Or a computer?  Are there machines that are like servants to you? Even friends?