Robotic Humanity

It’s really bothering me. What will happen to humans once technology is so evolved that the robots can do everything better than we can?

Can that happen? Again, I mentioned this: I’d be fine if humans became extinct because of some entirely better organism we developed, one that was smart and physically able, creative and soundly ethical, sympathetic and morally complete, and CAPABLE of HAPPINESS. The happiness is important because otherwise the robots would be, well, robotic. They’d do what they’d do just because that’s what they do, and nobody ever wins or loses. But would an entirely artificial and robotic specimen work? Of course, there’s the HARD BODY-MIND PROBLEM to deal with, but suppose that were resolved and everything: I want to list the pros and cons here.

To make this problem more specific, I will consider robots which are made almost entirely of non-organic material, have a sophisticated computer with sophisticated software that somehow provides the consciousness, are at least loosely based on human anatomy, and rely on electricity.

Good:

  • Physical convenience. A robotic civilization would be absolutely amazing in the transportation it could provide to its citizens. If the brains, say, could be detached, or the body could be detached, or at least the brain could be coded not to feel uncomfortable while somehow its skeleton were minimized, transportation would be crazily fast and flexible. Furthermore, a robotic species would also allow highly realistic virtual meetings, or even allow a brain to connect to a temporary body a serious length from itself, like the movie Surrogates. Then the brain could, say, read mail or turn something off to save energy or something. I can’t think of a better idea, since both those things should have excellent interfaces with the brain already, but whatever.
  • Medical convenience. Now, literally anything can be fixed with a robot. Arms, legs, skulls, whatever; you know how to make them. Theoretically you could also back up your brain, in the “cloud”, as they like to say. Even better, all this would be painless: no costy anaesthetic or hospital beds.

Mixed:

  • Less environmental dependence. Robots would probably be optimized for energy consumption, for one thing, and thus less energy conservation would be necessary. Also, robots don’t need oxygen and thus have no need for plants or anything to keep the oxygen flowing. This is convenient, but could well make the Earth entirely uninhabitable.
  • Loss of privacy. Robot parents could perhaps look at their children’s memories. Politicians couldn’t tell a lie and get away with it. On one hand, it’s intimate, but on the other hand, it sort of breaks down as a hive mind, except maybe with priorities. That’s vulnerable. To viruses, for instance.
  • Loss of diversity. Every robot would be made to the exact same specification, except hopefully at least seeded with something mildly different. This would probably make society very generally moral, obviate things like asylums and jails, and save a lot of futile minority quarrels, but make any “group work” entirely pointless, and increase hostility towards, say, animals, or humans if they’re still around. Competition becomes just about meaningless, particularly those involving intelligence or physical skill, which is just about everything.

Bad:

  • Brain-hacking. A robot who knew a lot about how the robot consciousness worked could, in theory, change some properties of the consciousness of another robot. The others could become his minions, his advocates, his slaves. The whole robot population would become manipulated by him, and their personalities would be irrepairably destroyed. And this could be caused by a single immoral robot. You could make all the robots plain moral, but that would introduce lack of diversity, possibly the lesser of two evils.
  • Dependence on Civilization. Assuming the robots relied on electricity, they couldn’t live without it, which would be a serious problem if somehow or other civilization hit the reset button, or any robots were stranded on the sea, in an island, or anywhere in the wilderness. Humans ought to be able to survive on plants or small animals, but I can’t imagine how robots could get electricity in the wilderness before their supply ran out.

I know this list is woefully incomplete, but I’ve been working on it for way too long, so here goes.

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