Journal 6

In today’s class, we watched the Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You which explored the cultural and ethical implications that would be linked to the integration of futuristic technologies in an alternate-present. In this episode specifically, the idea of an intra-body artificial memory storage system, called a “Grain” was introduced. The characters displayed the wide cultural integration of this technology as every aspect of life accommodated for the Grain– in the car, displays were provided for the passengers to project their memories onto, multiple Grain-projection screens were located spiritually throughout the house. Every conversation inevitably resulted in some sort of Grain reference to retell a story, confirm a statement, or catch a person in their lie. Although the benefits were clear as the characters had perfect recollection of every event they had every experienced since receiving the Grain, the topic of privacy invasion was dove into. With the ability to project memories, refusal to do so would be a sort of social ostracization or a sure reason for suspicion. Anyone could be pressured into doing it against their will socially, and even legally or violently. This idea of limitless and accessible memory raises the topic of security versus privacy. With the Grain, people are able to rely on their memory as a fact as opposed to just an objective recollection, so it is used a sort of surveillance on yet for the public. In the episode, the airport requested to see the passengers’ memories from the full previous week, and the police requested Grain feeds of an assault to use as evidence. More secure– yes; less privacy– also yes. The technology to actually create a real-life Grain is questionable, but even more questionable is whether it should be done or not in regards to ethics.

 

Journal 5

“Progress” is inextricably linked to the idea of positive forward motion.  The key word here is positive, as people often fall into the thought process that forward motion is beneficial, so to progress forward must be positive too. However, as expressed in the pilot episode of “Humans” and Martin Ford’s “The Automation Wave, progress as a positive is up for debate, especially when in regards to technology. Both the director of this television series and the writer of this book are “futurists” who use the status quo of the present scientific and social community to systematically explore and predict a potential future.  In both these works the futurists in charge honed in on the presence of robots in the future and what their roles would be, and whether they are a truly positive piece of progress.

In Human, there is a classic “rebellious teen” character Matilda with slipping grades due lack of motivation, but hers stems from the presence of robots within her society. Her argument– “What’s the point?”. She well knows that synthetic androids so commonly installed in her world will be programmed to any job that would take her years to study for, and they’ll most likely do the job more efficiently. Matilda is unmotivated not because she is an angsty teenager but because the robots have taken away her sense of purpose.

Ford also explores this future possibility of human-purpose displacement by the robots with a specific focus on low-wage labor. Sure, assigning robots to undesirable jobs like repetitive factory work or simple cashier tasks at fast food restaurants would free up humans to do more challenging jobs, but for many these straighter forward employment opportunities are a primary and perhaps singular source of income. The high turnover rates of jobs like these allow for them to be easily accessible to the public who need work now, just as a means to make ends meet. Without them, people with modest levels of education will have a difficult time finding work. The US’s dynamic economy gives hope that sufficient jobs would be able to replace these for the sake of the people that would become unemployed at the hands of robots, but that is a high risk that lives across the nation would be dependent on.

Robotic progress could rip open a can of opportunity– it could be an era of liberty from labor for humans that would allow for uninterrupted freedom of mind and creativity. However, it could also be ripping open a can of worms of never before seen poverty, economic displacement, and violent neglection of the middle-to-lower class as robots would take over human jobs. Robotics on the level proposed by these two futurists is definitely a forward motion for humans, the question of its legitimacy as “positive” still stands.

 

Journal 4

In class, we were prompted in small groups to discuss what is ethical about introducing robots to society. Immediately our group jumped to discussions of humanity and whether it is ethical for humans to basically enslave these machines in the way that we tend to do. How could we as humans sleep at night if we were forcing these humanoid creatures to do our bidding via their programming? It seemed like a reasonable debate to have, especially as we had just recently discussed the parallels between African American slavery and the robots as “property”. When thinking in this context, then of course it isn’t ethical to introduce robots to society in this manner.

However, in our debate we neglected to differentiate robots from Caves of Steel and the robots that we would realistically be incorporating into today’s society. In Asimov’s novel the robots’ functions are essentially to serve humans, but their presence is realistically over the top. Although the robots can be programmed with qualities that humans may lack, for example unwavering moral compasses, to create these walking, talking, decision making machines to carry out human duties just isn’t feasible or wise for a society like ours. Unemployment is already an issue in our society, so to introduce a machine to do daily jobs like “detective” would be unnecessary and self-destructive.

I think that it’s important to be specific in defining “robot” for the sake of this question, as Asmov’s depiction of them is not the only definition. When it is instead defined as “a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer” (by Google) I can undoubtedly agree that their integration into society isn’t just ethical but necessary. There are many jobs that cannot be carried out effectively due to human error, such as surgical procedures and operating vehicles, so it would be wise to introduce mechanical systems to operate these. Ethical systems don’t even have to be considered, as these robots are merely carrying out preprogrammed tasks that a human would be doing in a less efficient and less effective manner.

AWinter Journal 3

The Bicentennial Man raises the topic of racial discrimination as hints of inequalities were scattered throughout the reading in the form of robotic metaphors. The conversation of freedom eludes to historical enslavement as the robots were forced into submission, which for them was due to their positronic brain wired to obey the Three Laws of Robotics. The freed robot Andrew was even representative of the culture present during the reconstruction period following the civil war– he was labeled “free” but still faced obvious oppression. African Americans granted freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation were still suppressed as most were freed into hostile environments lacking any sort of support. Even upon freedom, Andrew was still ordered to act against his will, African Americans were still deprived of economic and educational opportunities while enduring continuous acts of hate from their inimical peers.

I couldn’t help but project my background of biology upon this theme of discrimination, therefore expanding my ideas of the reading a bit farther beyond racism. Among the humans and the robots there was a defined line between the two– even though they both walked like equals and talked like equals, there was a clear disconnect. Outward appearance can’t solely equate two individuals, which parallels to the scientific disagreement towards the the morphological species concept, which uses differences and similarities in appearance to differentiate one species from another. It is an arbitrary system that doesn’t take into account the many evolution-based causes of similar appearances, such as mimicry. This strategy used by animals to mimic characteristics of other organisms is seen in the robots of the Bicentennial Man as their fundamental design is rooted in its ability to almost seamlessly mimic humans– both in behavior and aesthetics.

Methods like phylogenetic speciation are more commonly accepted– this determines species by looking at whether or not the individuals in question have overlapping evolutionary history or any sort of genetic overlap. The humans in the Bicentennial Man reflect these accepted means of equating species; they see the robots as human-like beings, but know fundamentally they are not the same– they do not share any sort of common ancestor nor any genetic similarities as they don’t even have the same constitution. One is flesh, one is metal. One is man, one is simply not.

Journal 2

Evolution is often wrongly defined as progress within a population over time. The key problem here is the word progress– evolution is a directionless process that is simply change over time. But due to common human infatuation with progression, it’s easy for people to hope that the natural selection process deciding our populations’ future is pushing us forward as well. If we’re going to be moving in any sort of direction, it better be forward. Otherwise, we’ll just be wasting energy.
In The Human Motor, energy is conveyed as a currency. Since it is the means by which work can be done, to maximize work profits energy must be utilized to the fullest. Therefore, there should be no wasted motions and no backward steps. And as Rabinbach continues to portray humans as motors, it is clear that we are a flawed machine. Like all things in our natural world, the human body follows the principles of thermodynamics– for energy to be exerted, it must at some point be imported. You can’t get something from nothing, the same way that the human body can only work on the terms that it is “fueled” by sleep and food. Humans are not perfect, tireless work machines, but strive for efficiency anyway as a strong work ethic is presently a respected and admired trait.
Hard work has not always been as highly valued as it is today, as in the past it has been negatively linked to working out of financial necessity, and idleness was admired due to its link to high-class privilege. Now, it is considered a “disease of will”, as compared to fatigue which is viewed more positively as an indicator of hard work (Rabinbach 23).
Looking into A Connecticut Yankee, this malappraisal of idleness therefore explains why Hank is so taken aback and concerned to see so much laziness within the world of King Arthur’s Court. Unable to explain the lazy people’s lack of motivation to work, Hank can only resort to deeming them insane and potential inhabitants of an asylum, as a product of their “disease of will”. These people do not value the energy they hold, and live in a directionless, progress-less community that Hank could only view with disapproval and with hopes to steer it in a forward direction.
As addressed by the The Chicago World’s Fair documentary, sometimes progress can inadvertently lead to retrogression. Specifically looking at the war technologies displayed so proudly by each nation, it was terrifying to know that the German cannons the guest gawked at would be ones utilized just two decades later to attack most of Europe. The celebration of progress soon turned into a period of fear and war, only highlighting the terrible progressions humans are capable of.