Robots like us? Pt 1 - The why?

I thought I would write a little about robotics. Robots fascinate me, especially their our relationships with them. How do they fit in?

Robots already play a vital role in our world. They do things that are either mind-numbingly boring and repetitive or things that require millimeter level accuracy or immense speed. Currently we are comfortable with robots from a philosophical point of view. Robots today act like elderly handicapped children with severe brain damage. We understand why, we nod, smirk and consider the silly robot.

That is not to say that this is not changing, and faster than we as a society will be able to adjust. If we can imagine a world where a robot could do what we do, act like we do, and be indistinguishable from us, there are several questions that need to be raised, and several eyebrows that will go with them.

The first and foremost question is on why we need robots that look like us in the first place. A roomba robot can vacuum the floor without looking like a human right? But it can't climb stairs! Ok. Ok. Let's give it a stair lift! No... wait! Lets give it some legs. Yeah that will work. But to walk properly it can't only have legs. To walk properly it will need counterweights on an upper body to balance it. Oh kinda like arms then? Yes... I guess so.

I'm not going to drag that paragraph out any more. I think I have made my point. Evolution has given the human form the greatest flexibility. There is no other animal that is such a good all rounder as a human. And if your roomba has arms, it can pick up your dirty laundry and do other cool stuff too. It just doesn't make sense to have 50 different robots in your home when you can have one that can do it all.

The second question will be how we frame humanoid robots in our world. At first they will not be as clever as we are. How are we to treat them? If we treat them with respect it seems unnatural because they are just machines. It would be like asking your toaster nicely not to burn your toast. If you treat them badly you will feel bad because of the human form of the robot. But this is in the case of human-like robots. Robots that just kind of look like humans, but aren't really there yet.

The deeper question is this. If robots looked and behaved like we do, would we treat them differently? Would this not be the same as racism or sexism? When do you classify something as being self-aware? When does something become someone? When does it have rights, priveleges and opinions?

I Will leave with that thought. What I really want to explore towards the end of this series of posts that I am writing, is that we have something very special with robots, something that is deep and will touch society as a whole.
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