Top 10 reasons why people don't like robots.

Robotics and the popular opinion (Japanese enthusiasm, skepticism in the West).
Thoughts in connection with a visit to Ishiguros Robot Lab.

Complete report at:
Ishiguros Robot Laboratory
Our vist to the Ishiguro Robot Lab
Dept. of Adaptive Machine Systems, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan
Nov. 2008.

Datalog Bladet, Aargang 31, April 2009. p. 5 - 16:
Visit to the Ishiguro Robot Lab (pdf) (d).

After my return from Japan I have gradually collected a fairly large collection of anti-robot comments.

The top 10 list contains statements such as:
The robots will kill us, turn us into slaves, destroy the free will, make sex old-fashioned,
make us depressed over life's brevity, they are annoyingly fearless, ugly, destroys our memories,
undermines human rights, and are actually just new and annoying.

1. They will kill us.

Is a comment with a long and proud tradition. Actually, such sentiments goes way back to 1921.
The year where czech writer Karel Capek introduced the world to robots, in the play RUR (Rossum Universal Robots).
In Capeks play the robots are slaves. But pretty quickly there are more robots than there are humans.
And the robots quickly becomes more intelligent than humans. A robot revolt follows with the unfortunate consequence
that humanity is eradicated.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov was not much better. In his 1951 short story collection I Robot, robots are clever,
but equipped with deadly errors. When his robots are not error prone, then they are busy planning the fate of humanity,
without being distracted by minor things, such as what people might think.

Science fiction writers have done very little to spread the idea
that robots are just stupid computers that can move around a little - and thats it.

2. They will turn us into slaves.

Even when the robots are obedient, this can give humans bad associations.
E.g. In the popular Star Wars movies, the dark side is always busy making evil plans that others must obey.
And the evil plans are often enforced by an army of stupid and obedient robots!
In Star Wars, good only triumphs over evil because of the dark sides twisted self-understanding and ridiculous
self-glorifying ways.
I.e. You don't need an army of stupid and obedient droids to make people appreciate freedom and democracy.

So, the dark side must be prepared to spend a lot of pr. consultanting hours
and a lot of advertising dollars to make obedient, killer robots go down well with the public,
along with stupid, but friendly, vacuum cleaner robots.

3. They destroy the free will.

Technology takes power away from the people.
Remember Chaplin at the assembly line in a F.W. Taylor rationalized factory?

But here it is even worse. If humans and robots are going to be almost identical,
and we know that robots have no real free will? Can we then believe that people have free will?

And can you escape from the Chaplin nightmare, if you do not have a free will?
Can you have attractive dreams and happiness without free will?

Sure, a young man can dream of becoming a rock star? Of being unpredictable, exciting, creative, dangerous.
But an older man may perhaps have discovered that success dreams often becomes a reality through
a predictable, reliable and trustworthy lifestyle.

In both cases you must have free will in order for you to pursue your goals!
The ultimate techno nightmare again:
Millennia of human efforts ended with technology killing free will, and thereby hope and dreams.

4. They make sex old-fashioned.

The Human world is a non-stop grind of biological competition.
Women must be beautiful, as a sign of fertility, and men must work hard (for money and power),
so they can afford to have many children. Propagation of genes is all that really matters?

But hey, robots can be beautiful as you want them to be. And they can work around the clock,
outperforming even the most industrious human males.
But robots will not care about sex. And will probably prefer to have their offspring produced
at a state of the art robot factory, in a process supervised by top robot designers.

Robots might also end up being indifferent to a lot of the social maneuvering that humans find so important
(for social position and resources for offspring).

I.e. Robots might actually be built to be perfectly happy with any social position in the robot flock?
So, they will feel no need to gossip with friends and exercise social skills to obtain resources and partners, etc. ?
In short, their understanding of reproduction and survival will be probably be very different
from the human understanding.

5. They make us depressed over life's brevity.

People will not live forever. And people are not always in good health.
Androids, on the other hand, can live forever and will always be in good health.

6. They are annoyingly fearless.

Humans are created timid. It helps us keep safe and out of harms way, ready for another day.
Androids on the other hand can be created almost fearless.
Sure, they might be terribly injured, but not to worry.
After all, android injury can be fixed, but not so with humans.

Or, can we be sure that the super clever, self aware and with free will robots of the future
will be just like us, and nearly always have a careful behaviour?

7. They are ugly.

Roboticist Mori coined the term The Uncanny Valley to describe the hypothesis in robotics,
that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans,
it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.

A Stone Age man will look at a robot vacuum cleaner and think that it is sweet and harmless.
Something like ReplieeQ2 resembles a human and yet not. So, the Stone Age man becomes filled with disgust.
Instincts tell him that he must be standing in front of sick human. Someone who must immediately
be expelled from the flock. Stone Age logic: Remove the ugly one, and your problems will be fixed...

Note, that when you remove the silicone skin from ReplieeQ2 (and just have the raw metal skeleton)
many people are more comfortable with that. It is less uncanny, as it gives fewer associations?

8. They destroy our memories.

We get our identity through our memories?
The first kiss, the first boat trip, the long summers when we were children etc.
But what about identity, if you can just download some memories in a robot.
And the robot will be just as proud of its (false) memories, as we are of our true memories?

And what about education? Society tell us, that the best investment you can make, is to take an education.
But does it make sense to go to school for many years, while the robots just download whatever skills they need?

9. They undermine human rights.

If you can buy and sell robots as you like, and do with them as you please,
- and they look and feel just likes humans.
Surely, human rights will also be in trouble in such a world?

And robots could be used against human rights in so many ways!? I.e.
a) Wouldn't it be real easy to let a robot army commit atrocities in some foreign country?
Certainly, without the Three Laws of Robotics robots don't guarantee human rights
(like the protection of the right to life).
b) And what about our values? The freedom of an individual, or community, to manifest belief in a religion
(or not to follow any religion) is a fundamental human right.
But, can churches still be spiritual sanctuaries for humans, if they are invaded by clever robots?
Provocatively: Most western churches are ''spacious''.
But will there also be room for a searching or grieving robot?
c) According to the human rights act, humans have the right to marry and to start a family.
However, most people would need a job to pay for this, so it will be no good,
if the robots replace us in the labour force (The robots intended purpose!?).
Perhaps, that fear is not completely irrational?

10. They are new and annoying.

If the above were not enough, then there are also those who simply do not like new things.
And almost everything robotic is indeed new!

Life without genes is surely a new thing! Remember, a body is, for biological creatures, the genes
way of propagating genes (Like, a hen is an eggs way of making more eggs).
So, what is the purpose of an android body? Making genes in a biological creature happy? Really?
Life without genes? Probably a development the genes had not seen coming!

It gets worse. Imagine that we (in say 2030) take a super accurate brain scan of a human mind.
A future engineer will then use this scan to create an android brain (copy) in 500 years time.
Unfortunately, his robot is accidently blown up on its first field trip. Did anyone die?
And when did they die?

Aarhus May-29-2009

Simon Laub.
revised Oct. 2009.

-- Posted on Usenet: 11-04-2010 --

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