Asimovian 21st century robotics.

High-Level cognitive functions in robots, as envisioned in Asimovs books.

Most of Asimov's robot short stories are set in the first age of robotics and space exploration.
A recurring theme is the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in a robot's (positronic) brain.
All robots in his fiction must obey these laws, which ensure that a robot does not turn against its creators.
But the underlining question behind it all is of course: How intelligent will these 21st century robots be?
How human-like? Will the coming centuries see things like: a) Robot Love. Robots capable of love
and perhaps capable of passionately killing for love? b) Intelligent robots that use force to realize their plans
for the future. A Pax Robotica? c) Robots motivated by built-in human urges, such as sex?
d) Robots that are sophisticated enough to use all the dimensions of power to get what they want?

Asimov certainly had opinions about it all. Opinions that will be explored below:

1. Roboticide and Robot love.
2. Pax Robotica.
3. Robot Sex.
4. The 3 dimensions of power. Robot power and Asimov.

Robot Sex.

Surely, you have asked yourself: How should future super intelligent robots be designed?
The robots that are supposed to go out there in the universe on our behalf and figure it all out?
The super intelligent R.Daneels, the R. Giskards and the R.Dors' of the Asimovian universe.
What little trick is to be built into them so that they keep evolving and striving
like hell to become better and better? What are we going to do, to make absolutely sure that they
don't just one day call it quits and sit down and decide to become immortal or begin to make robot clones
(which won't bring much new to the universe).

Somehow, I imagine that Charles Darwin would have said that sex would be the answer!
This follows not from his 1859 classic "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,
or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
Which is "just" about natural selection. I.e. given variation the most fit are most likely to survive.
No, its follows from his 1871 classic "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" [1].
Its here that one could hope to find some good answers.
In its time it caused great controversy by indicating that man descended from more primitive beings
(the ape thing). But, even more controversial was of course the part about sexual selection -
that (in most species) females selects males to mate with,
and that these males must put on some sort of display in order to be selected.
Write a symphony, figure out how the universe works or be good at playing football
- and you will get a mate, otherwise not only you, but everything about you,
will die and be removed from the universe......

Something like this would be a wonderful wakeup call for complacent robots of the future!

Sure, at first glance, cloning looks like the way to have "kids".
All of your brilliant genes passed on to the next generation
without letting some other persons poor genes in on the deal? A perfect copy.
But, nature apparently doesn't think so. Except for bacteria (and alike).
Instead, Nature is all for giving it a good mix. So, males and females are created,
with different jobs to do, in order to create these new and exciting creatures of the future.
And as mate selection apparently was what gave us the symphonies (and all the other things).
Certainly, the robots should also have mate selection in their Robo-DNA!

Yes, death to complacent robots! Lets not give them an easy
ride like bacteria (Bacteria doesn't die. They just split into two identical new daughter cells).
No, lets try natures ''cool'' invention "death" on them, and lets try out sexuality on them.
A sexuality that produces unique organisms -
Unique organisms that doesn't last, but creates the engine (dynamism)
that makes the whole thing go around.

Sexuality, as the great engine for creating stuff.
Where natural selection optimizes, economizes, rationalize and makes an organism robust
in order to secure survivability. Sexual selection does in principle the opposite.
It introduces a handicap to an animal.
If the animal can survive with this handicap, it must have good genes.
It take resources to make a good bird song or a good peacock tail.
And females just love such display of good genes that can do all of this.

According to Darwin, humans are of course no different.
Humans also wants to impress the opposite sex,
and as collecting food is becoming increasingly trivial for humans,
humans must do something else (more)....
And there is lots of stuff to do. If writing that symphony is not your line of work,
then what about trying out stuff like charity, good social behaviour or love of your fellow human?
Surely, also signs of strength - an allowed handicap. It is difficult and cost us something!
And by showing strength you will obtain social prestige and acquire better mating possibilities!

In human terms - natural selection is about survival, adaption to ones environment. Efficiency.
So, an even stronger individual, in human terms, tries to be anti-adapted. If successful this is an
important sign of strength. And so with the rest of our brave human world. The virtues of wisdom,
justice, bravery, selfcontrol, belief, hope and love makes us human, but are also just handicaps.
If you display these (handicaps) then you are a strong individual
and will acquire a good mate


And surely, the robots will love it? The female robots get to pick who lives and who dies.
And the male robots must run around all day long in order to be picked.
Ok, maybe we will allow for the robots to switch jobs from time to time (As humans sometimes do.
If you have been picking all day long, its fun to do a little running and vice versa).
But it will not be ok, if the robot starts thinking about cloning, complacency and immortality.
Tinkering with the system must mean instant and certain death!

After we have introduced robot sex, the robots will probably be very unhappy,
unfulfilled without it, and on constant lookout for ways to make the pain go away.
According to many surveys, human women and human men are looking for the same things in a mate:
Friendliness and understanding, intelligence, an interesting personality and good health
(Why you ask, they are going to die anyway?) tops the list.
Following this, men find looks a bit more important that women,
whereas women find money a little more important than men do.
In the end, the mate choice is all about human (emotional) and financial security.
Whatever security you can get inside this run amok (sex) machine, that is.
Surely, we hope the robots will find a little friendship in their world as well, as we give them
death and sex, but we know that the hardships are necessary and for their own good...
(R.Giskard would agree [2]).

Then, what about pleasure?

Females will rate the really grand male displays, and decide whether these behaviours
are any good. And thereby, actually decide the future of these big plans?
However, small plans and actions must be rated too. So, lets talk about pleasure.

Obviously, the robots must feel something immediately for every action. It will be no good,
if they have to go into enormous calculations on the future state of the entire universe
before every little step they take.
So, there will have to be some sort of pleasure system onboard all robots.
In humans we have this wonderful reward system, "the dopamine system",
that rewards us for doing things with survival value - Eating or having sex, for example.
A system that work overtime whenever you are enjoying something: Sex, chocolate, drugs or music.
The pleasure system is good for guiding actions. It helps us choose between
conflicting requirements, like: Eat, drink, stay safe, mate, get warm.
Surely, the robots must have something like this as well.

Pleasure by definition cannot be long lasting. It must switch off so that we can move on
to the next tasks. And therefore we can never be truly happy seeking pleasure.
I.e. if we experience pleasure thats because we have needed something.
If we are in no danger or have no need of any kind, then we are in a comfortable,
but indifferent state.
This state of indifference is (btw) what we call happiness.
And for humans that state never last long. At the very least, eventually sex or death will catch up.

Certainly, the robots will love such a life.... !
We, in return, can sit back, relax and enjoy, while the robots are busy exploring the universe?

Perhaps :-)

-- Posted on Usenet: 19-01-2004 --

Simon Laub.

Simon Laub.
Page revised Dec. 2008.

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Picture is from the Adaptive Machine Systems lab in Osaka Japan. Nov. 2008.