The future is a very strange country. Every peek I take of it surprises me afterwards with it’s Philip K Dick-like bizarreness. Why so? Well, it’s actually quite simple- we humans have a multitude of needs, some obvious, some hidden and come what may we will seek to satisfy them. Just look at the actual content on the internet today compared to how the original academics intended for it to be used and you’ll see the pattern. Judge harshly, or even blink too long and you’ll miss the picture of humanity reflecting itself through its creations. Hence any perfect future as linear as much science fantasy would expect is quite simply unbelievable, partly for it’s boring predictability. No, one who would see the future will experience a much more remarkable place…
I dreamt of being a miner in some future, off-world colony. To assist me in operating my massive machinery and perhaps also to keep me company in the inhospitable zone, I had two android helpers- one Chinese-looking, one German. The Chinese one was technically very adapt, efficient and aggressive at getting things done. The German one was, by comparison, recalcitrant, even dreamy. The AI was an introvert, obsessed with ethical issues, which it would contemplate inwardly, mumouring musings in 17th century German from time to time, which neither of us could understands, but had a poetic ring to it.
At one point, the conflict between them, which I was bizarrely adjudicating like a teacher in a nursery school, came to a head. Looking skywards and mumbling some have-intelligible contemplation about the relationship between man (or even machine) and God, the German, who was known as a ‘Protestant’ model, failed to respond to a need to make some technical adjustments. The Chinese one was robotically furious, accusing him of disloyalty to me and the mission, a charge I felt unfair, considering his personality, robotic or otherwise. The Chinese one reached ore within a welding torch and threatened to melt the synthetic skin on the Protestant&s feet. Meanwhile, the Protestant, dressed in what seemed to be some amalgamation of a scientist&s white uniform and a sackcloth, looked skywards and mumbled what I can only suppose to be a condemnation of violence on intensely ethical grounds, as incompatible with the very essence of sentient intelligence, a pious objection that seemed to infuriate the Chinese robot all the more.
At this, I stepped in, scolding them in equal measure, as best I could. ‘There are many intelligences in the world, you have to respect each other. Protestant, I know your musings are holy and pure and I support them, but you need to pay attention to the task at hand when needed. As for you, violence is wrong, show some more tolerance. What would your maker think, seeing you behave this way to a fellow being?’
Unfortunately for the continuation of the dream, at this point I woke up, though at least this meant that I could remember what happened. I was left with a lot of strange and uncomfortable feelings, but there was inly one logical conclusion. It was that as technology solves the very real problems of creating enough computing power to feign intelligence and create the suggestion of personality, at that point it will all be a matter of taste what we invent. Our taste will ultimately reflect our humanity rather than our lust for achievements for their own sake.
We need more than anything to develop our compassion. It is almost as if God commands it, or knows it is best for us, to be more truly like Him, our compassion and tolerance growing in equal measure to our ability to effect the world around us, our power if you like, bringing responsibility with it. So it is only natural we will create beings that continue our own ethical debates about efficiency vs human rights and also beings that will require our concern and intervention as much as they help look after our needs. That is, our emotional needs will be met by robots as much as our physical ones, which includes the desire to look after others.
Hence my bizarre situation playing babysitter to the robots doing such crucial woke for me on a distant star system. Only with their seeming flaws could I stay sane, evolving inwardly as is so important for me. The seeming nostalgic, reverent recreation if the ‘Protestant’ embodies this. It is not so much that technologies will take over our humanity from here, as that they will reflect and aid their makers in more ways than are now obvious. Leading to a bizarre and wonderful future, rather than a predictable one, in which ‘Siri’ is just the first in a whole host of intelligences we will be interacting with.