We love robots. But do they LIKE us?

[Reading time: five minutes]

Try picturing yourself living in a world designed for someone half your size, and to constantly adapt to the least, biomechanically speaking, efficient form for your long, athletic biped body: walking on all fours. If that is not enough, imagine that everything around you looks like everything you’re used to, but with a twist: other entities around you act completely differently from what you were expecting and you have to cope with that in the best way possible (think of a self-driving car driving across the streets of Rome). Otherwise you’re just a malfunctioning piece of junk.

Welcome to the daily life of a modern robot.

They could be in the form of androids, biped entities, carts with six wheels or titanium made leopards: no matter their form they have to adapt to our needs and necessities while coping with the inherent inefficiencies of being designed (not without a little self-celebrating anthropomorphism) like us. Right now we are making robots that live and “think” like us, sharing our environment, actions, “attitudes” and behaviour. We want them to mimic us as good as possible.

But is this the best way to create a truly evolved entity? We, as humans, think that by design we are the most brilliant piece of engineering that you can find around. But are we?
We aren’t the fastest, nor the strongest entity on this planet. Some days our actions make us even doubt if we are the smartest animal on this planet.

Yet, we insist on this paradoxical creationist pet peeve of building robots that are just like us. Maybe just a little bit better.
Don’t get me wrong, robotics has made incredible leaps forward in the past years, from multiple standpoints, such as equilibrium, perception, speed and so on and so forth. Just look at this “nightmare inducing” piece of metal coming straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Still, supercharging our imperfect engineering framework with wheels and springs might not be the best possible way to create genuinely innovative robots.
Should we give them the ability to ponder over this and letting them being responsible for their evolution? (We will eventually get there with self-designing AI, but this is a topic for another time).

What would you feel like if you were a ROOMBA vacuum robot constantly hitting over the junk you left on the ground? How would you react to a world that forces you to interact with stuff that needs all of your five fingers? Wouldn’t it be better to have a robot with 10 fingers, or even none?

Out of the silliness of my democratic evolutionary argument try to think about it: our evolution was a process of trial and error: we adapted to the natural environment around us and shaped it according to our needs.
Instead we are creating incredible robots, but incredible compared to us, being just a smarter, faster, stronger version of an average Joe. This may be useful, in a sense, to keep our hegemony over this planet, but the inevitable glass ceiling of marginal robotic improvements, if we keep heading in this direction, will somehow be reached, sooner or later.

Still let’s put ourselves for a second in the miserable life of a robot coping with us, creators, constantly being imperfect and behaving irrationally.
If anything that could resemble an emotion could blaze through its transistors, I would not be surprised if it ended up being hatred, for telling “him” to be rational while we incoherently pull throughout the day, to brake the car for us when there is a possible dangerous situation while we overtake other cars on the left, right and, if it were possible also on top while reckless driving.
We do not do the things that we expect the others to do, and this, in my opinion, is as human as the story can get. Think of it as a love relationship.

We LOVE robots, but I think that, if they could, they would HATE us.


Get the latest technological updates every thursday here on Tech Stuff or follow me on twitter @carlostoppani.
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