Karel Čapek, a writer, coined the word “robot,” derived from the Czech “robota” (“forced labor”), and was first employed in 1917 in his short story Opilec, (Drunkard). Although the word robot was new at that time, the idea of an artificial form of life was by no means a new one in Čapek’s day. Inventors and engineers had, for millennia, devised automata that simulated some of the functions of living creatures.
The public’s fascination for automata reached its first peak in France in the eighteenth century, with the creation of automata that could not only eat but also breathe; automata with soft skin, flexible lips and delicately moving jointed fingers. A remarkable early example of humanlike automata was a birthing machine designed in the mid-eighteenth century by Angélique du Cudray, a midwife to the royal court of France, to assist in the teaching of midwifery. Her machine was made of wicker, stuffed linen and leather, dyed in various flesh-like colors, some pale and some of a deeper red, to simulate the softness and appearance of a woman’s skin and organs. Sponges soaked in liquids colored red and other hues were used inside the machine, releasing their simulated bodily fluids at appropriate stages of the lectures on the birthing process.
On the far side of the world, the Japanese interest in robotics also dates back to the eighteenth century, with the design of a tea-carrying doll. When a host placed a cup of tea in the doll’s hands, it carried the cup to the guest who then took the cup from the doll, whereupon the doll stopped moving. After drinking the tea, the guest put the cup back into the doll’s hands, the weight of the cup causing the doll to turn around and return to the host with the empty cup. These eighteenth-century marvels did much to create a climate of interest in the notion that human and animal-like bodily and mental processes can be successfully simulated.
Karel Čapek’s vision was of robots that could think for themselves, robots with feelings, robots that could fall in love with each other. In his play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, one of the scientists at the robot factory came up with the idea of endowing the robots with emotions, which led to their developing feelings of resentment about being treated like the slaves of human masters. Čapek had the foresight to predict what some people today fear about a future with robots – that they will “take over the world” – and in his play, the robots decided to rebel and kill all human beings.
During the second half of the twentieth century, science fiction became a hugely popular literary form, paralleling the development of the science of Artificial Intelligence, and as with many other lines of research in robotics, the first fully working androids (human-shaped robots) were developed in Japan. The initial forays by roboticists into the world of fully interactive autonomous robots focused on entertainment, with creations such as robot toys, robot pets, and robots that play sports.
Simple electronic cats and dogs have been shown to provide psychological enrichment for humans, being both pleasurable and relaxing to play with and we already have android robots, whose appearance is designed to resemble humans, such as Honda’s ASIMO, Waseda University’s WABOT, and Toyota’s trumpet-playing robot. Other robots can mow our lawns and vacuum our carpets; and some robots can even reproduce – picking up and assembling the pieces of exact replicas of themselves. And already we have computer software that can exhibit some human-like emotions.
When these new computer technologies have been developed to maturity, and when they have been combined with what will then be the latest advances in AI research, the intellectual capabilities and the emotional capacities of robots will be nothing short of astounding. They will look like humans (or however we want them to look). They will be more creative than the most creative of humans. They will be able to conduct conversations with us on any subject, at any desired level of intellect and knowledge, in any language, and with any desired voice – male, female, young, old, dull, sexy. The robots of the mid-21st century will also possess humanlike or super-humanlike consciousness and emotions, and a new generation of AI researchers is now investigating more meaningful relationships between humans and “artificial partners.”
There are those who doubt that we can reasonably ascribe feelings to robots, but if a robot behaves as though it has feelings, can we reasonably argue that it does not?
If a robot’s artificial emotions prompt it to say things such as “I love you,” surely we should be willing to accept these statements at face value, provided that the robot’s other behavior patterns back them up. Why, if a robot that we know to be emotionally intelligent, says “I love you,” or “I want to make love to you,” should we doubt it?
If we accept that a robot can think, then there is no good reason why we should not also accept that it could have feelings of love and feelings of lust. Even though we know that a robot has been designed to express whatever feelings or statements of love we witness from it, that is surely no justification for denying that those feelings exist, no matter what the robot is made of nor what we might know about how it was designed and built.
The mere concept of an artificial partner, husband, wife, friend, or lover, is one that, for most people in the early decades of the 21st century, challenges their notion of relationships. Yet with the addition of artificial intelligence to the machine-slaves conceived in the twentieth century, we have now made them into something much more. By endowing robots with the capability of communicating with us at a level we can understand, a human level, and by building robots that have at least some appearance of humanlike features, we are rapidly moving towards an era when robots not only interact with us in a functional sense but also in a personal sense.
The interactive aspect of a robot’s being is becoming an important or even an essential element of its usefulness. Carer robots and teacher robots are just two examples. As the learning abilities of robots develop from primitive to sophisticated, so robots will be able to adapt to the needs and desires of their human partners. The robots of the future will learn by watching what makes us happy and grateful and will sense our desires and satisfy them. These artificially intelligent entities will no longer be perceived as some sort of machine. Rather, they will become accepted as good companions, capable of satisfying human needs.
To my mind, those who doubt the possibility of robot life lack a breadth of vision similar to those who, in the 1960s, doubted the possibility of artificial intelligence.
I do not expect the acceptance of love and sex with robots to become universal overnight, rather it is inevitable that a measure of hostility will be expressed towards such concepts, just as there was hostility towards the “ridiculous” notion that the earth is round rather than flat, towards the suggestion that our planet is on the edge of our galaxy rather than at its center, and towards the evolutionary studies that have shown man to be related to the apes. Such hostility always takes its time to dissipate, but dissipate it does.
We like to think of ourselves as “special” beings – special in the sense that our consciousness raises us above every other form of life. But as psychologists, brain researchers and other scientists learn more and more about the workings of the human mind, it will become generally accepted that marvelous though the human brain is, it is a kind of biological machine that can be analyzed and simulated, even to the point of simulating our emotions.
To be skeptical about such possibilities would be to ignore the increasingly rapid rate of progress in Artificial Intelligence, materials science, and the various other relevant areas of technology. Given the dramatic technological changes and advances that the world has witnessed during the past fifty years or so, any assumptions of unlikelihood or impossibility regarding our technological future are at the very least risky, and most probably unjustified. Would those among you who are skeptics have believed, 60 years ago, that the accolade awarded annually by Time magazine for the Man or Woman of the year would, in 1983, be given instead to the computer? And is it any more unlikely that in 60 years’ time that same accolade will be awarded to the android – a human-like robot?
Accepting that huge technological advances will be achieved by around 2050, my thesis is this. Robots will be hugely attractive to humans as companions because of their many talents, senses, and capabilities. They will have the capacity to fall in love with humans and to make themselves romantically attractive and sexually desirable to humans. Robots will transform human notions of love and sexuality. I am not suggesting that most people will eschew love and sex with humans in favor of relationships with robots, though some undoubtedly will. But what does seem to me to be entirely reasonable and extremely likely, nay inevitable, is that many humans will expand their horizons of love and sex, learning, experimenting, and enjoying new forms of relationship that will be made possible, pleasurable, and satisfying through the development of highly sophisticated humanoid robots.
Humans will fall in love with robots, humans will marry robots and humans will have sex with robots, all as “normal” extensions of our feelings of love and sexual desire for other humans. Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans, while the number of sexual acts and love-making positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach more than is in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined. Love and sex with robots on a grand scale are inevitable.
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