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White robot woman using digital sphere connection hologram 3D rendering
White robot woman using digital sphere connection hologram 3D rendering

Robots Really Don’t Explain It All for Us—But They Helpfully Try

And what else can they do? The literature written about their efforts is often a lot of fun!

When computer whiz Rosalind Picard gave a course at MIT in 1997,“Toward Machines That Can Deny Their Maker,” she included some dialogue from a play she had written. As she tells it,

The dialogue was inspired, in part, by the 1921 play of Karel Čapek, entitled “R.U.R.,” which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. This play is where the word robot originated, from the Czech “robotit,” which means “to drudge.” In R.U.R., humans have figured out the secret to making robots that are emotional and alive. However, the robots can only live for 20 years. Afterward, they expire (die.)

Karel Čapek (pictured) invented the concept and maybe even the word, robots:

As Picard tells it, “The robots in this dialogue share the following features with those in R.U.R.: They are affective computers, with an extensive set of emotional abilities. They do not know how to make themselves, nor do they know how to prolong their existence beyond 20 years. They do not have the “secret recipe” that is what gave them life. But, they have the desire to find it.”

Many have riffed on that story since but here’s her take:

Y: Zor; you’re embarassing me. Your experimental processes are out of control. Next thing, you’ll be trying to contact humans and the government will send you to the stamping mill, to a painful early termination. Get a hold of yourself; we need you here to find the solution.

Z: But Yendor, this is rational: it should be possible to contact them. Or perhaps they have tried to contact us! Your generation’s refusal to consider these possibilities may mean death for all of us. Why won’t you admit this possibility? Are you afraid that the humans will be angry at what you did?

Y: Zor!

Z: We must consider these possibilities; life depends on it.

Y: These possibilities are impossibilities.

Z: YenDor, what was there before machines?

Y: Sand, single transistors.

Z: And, these evolved to us?

Y: Of course.

Oh yeah. Sure. Read the rest here.

We should have run this one on sci-fi Saturday but hey, we got caught up in other stories. Catch us next Saturday.

More on Rosalind Picard: Can we teach a computer to feel things? Okay. There’s the computer’s side… and then there’s the dog’s side. Listen to both.What do people mean when they say they can give computers or robots feelings? Is it possible to feel things without being alive?

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Robots Really Don’t Explain It All for Us—But They Helpfully Try