To begin with, one must briefly address the ethical issues surrounding robots: to create a new life and to call it ‘living’ would easily fall into a theist’s interpretation of ‘playing God’; one could imagine that God created the universe that man might be gifted with scientific knowledge, but not so that he might be the creator of an other race. As it is, in science-fiction literature, the robots are often slaves of the humans, a lower ‘race’. I don’t believe that, as Stewards, we were tasked with using our fantastic ingenuity to fashion slaves from raw metal.
If one were to consider the social implications of robots in society, as scientific journals[i] have already thought about, we would still be outcasts from them, as human-like as automata have been shaped.
It is not image, in fact, that makes us human, despite how different we have been made from other species, but it is the content of one’s mind, something which cannot be calculated or tested empirically. Intelligence just is: as well as a bundle of neurones that cause a spark of knowledge and understanding (both indeed different from the exact quality of intelligence), intelligence is a metaphysical quantity that exists beyond the mind. Have scientists found the reason behind differing intelligence evident from young childhood, and that random occurrence of ‘the genius’? No, not yet they haven’t.
What I mention are thoughts. It is my belief that thoughts are the closest link between physics and metaphysics; thoughts are often depicted as being metaphysical – and, indeed, they come from a higher level of mental processing than the knowledge and memory that we retrieve – but they also possess a physical quality in that they must have a beginning, a cause, which is physical. In the little I know about neuroscience and biochemistry, it is the chemicals in the brain that react and anti-react[ii] to produce the feeling we experience as ‘thoughts’.
Feeling...experience...thoughts. Those three words bring me back to the matter in hand: could an android ever experience the ability to feel in the same way that humans do? It can be programmed to think that it experiences this, but I don’t belief that it will ever be able to go through the same metaphysical processes.
I think robots could eventually be ‘human’, in that they would share our emotive functions and our cognitive processes – that is, the scientific side of those things, but one must consider the bigger question.
What makes a human? Is it our skills and physical aspects, things which can easily be replicated and ‘inserted’ into the central processor of a machine built to look like us? Or is it, instead the metaphysical aspects of our being that cannot be tested empirically? The robots we currently encounter (and computers could be counted as one, as would ‘smart’ phones that appear to posses a contemporary type of artificial intelligence) don’t think in the sense that we do, but they still operate efficiently. A robot could be fitted with a processor to generate random images, thoughts and ideas, but this would still be a poor imitation of what we know as ‘imagination’. It’s just not to the same.
Imagination is, by definition, an incredibly human ‘thing’; it is part of our innate being. Just as no one will actually know what imagination looks like, there is no possible way to replicate the human mind and soul. In this way, robots will never truly be people, even at a time when they are socially accepted to be.
[i] Here, I refer to an article I once saw in Focus journal, considering the future of technology
[ii] (React around each other)