Thursday, June 29, 2006

News2Use In Depth: Singularity Bomb 2

All summer we're feeling out the implications of Ray Kurzweil's vision of the future -- his singularity event horizon when technology and genetic manipulation will alter the basic elements of being human. Check out his article library and his news 2 use about the dangers of technology.

"Safety, security and sex are the biggest concerns" of the European Robotics Research Network (Euron) as they contemplate a future where humans and robots interact daily.

It's easy to imagine that robots will appear more and more in our lives, becoming more and more indispensable. While robots from the ubiquitous home shopping networks can sweep your floors and mow your grass, robots are also now performing surgery in London and are anticipated to be caring for the elderly within twenty years. Euron is trying to set the ethical boundaries before robots hit the mainstream scene, raising questions that become easy "what-if" launches for speculative (romantic)fiction.

How do we protect human beings from robots?

I'm not really thinking about how to protect dear old grandmamma from a robotic caregiver gone mad. Instead, I'm considering how to protect dear old grandmamma from someone raiding the robotic caregiver's memory for her social security number, her blood type, her DNA -- all valuable data in this age of identity theft.

Hackers have taught us that anything security systems analysts do, they can do better. Imagine a future where routine surgeries are performed by robotic assistants, with human doctors standing by to assist if complications develop. Now imagine terrorists -- or even aliens -- usurping control of the systems running the surgical robots. Gives a whole new spin on "hacking."

As robots insinuate themselves into our lives, I can imagine a dual-class society emerging. The common folk live in a world made vulnerable by manipulation of robots, while the upper echelon essentially go neo-Luddite -- using technology as little as possible, relying on humans to take care of the small stuff, and demanding intense loyalty. Like the consequences of the Butlerian Jihad on the society of Dune, the new upper crust could demand highly skilled people as a commodity and demand an intense, feudal-like loyalty from them.

Should robots resemble human beings?

Our aesthetic sense is trained to appreciate symmetry, so the cultural resistance to a monstrous-looking machine with multiple arms, a tripod stance and numerous artificial sensory organs tending to dear old grandmamma might be too great. Just to gain acceptance, robot manufacturers may need to create machines that in their mirroring of their users do not intimidate too much for use.

But consider humanity's distressing ability to dehumanize each other. If the things that snap to your commands have two eyes, two arms, two legs, a nose and a mouth like, say, your spouse, your boss, or that hottie you covet at the health club, will we start treating people like our robots?

And if you covet that hottie at the health club, can you order a robot to mimic what you can't have? Or perhaps mimic what a widow or widower, or reluctant divorcee, has lost? Which brings us to the most fascinating question…

Should robots be used for sexual entertainment?

Using machines for sex is not a new concept. If this were that kind of blog, I would post a link to a site displaying the antics of a piston-powered phallus. Almost every new technology is immediately used for sexual pleasure, so sexbots are pretty much guaranteed.

Sexbots are not an entirely bad idea. Mechanized or robotic sex workers could be designed so they wouldn't transmit disease. They can't be emotionally abused, can't be raped. And they would never turn down a request for even the most bizarre bedroom entertainment.

But what about an always ready for anything sexbot that looks exactly like Mel Gibson? Scarlett Johanson? I'm sure that laws shielding famous human images would spring up immediately, and just as immediately be broken.

Even more freaky, how about an always ready for anything sexbot that can be ordered to look exactly like that hottie from the health club? What if a blank sexbot powered by nanotechnology could reproduce the likeness of any digital image it's provided? What if your angry ex could create a sexbot you? What if using Photoshop-like technology that digital image could be altered? Imagine going into your spouse's side of the closet and finding a sexbot you, only thinner. Or larger.

What if that serial killer two doors down could create a sexbot you? While you're watching your housebot do the dishes, he's ripping sexbot you to shreds. And it's only a matter of time before he graduates to the real thing…

Of course, none of these questions and extrapolations even touch on the Biggest Question of All: what if robots become self-aware?

Imagine the possibilities, and go write about them.

Further reading on this subject:

No Sex Please, Just Clean The Floor

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