Don’t be afraid of robots. Be afraid of servitude
Even though the hype is high, bots are still pretty basic. Don’t get me wrong, Watson does amazing things, I love Alexa and Siri; but we are still far from that scary day when they learn that they exist, that they are beings.
And that’s a good thing, because it gives us (some) time to figure out what we are going to do when that happens.
If we can learn anything from science fiction (and we should), is that the robot-human relationship is always based around servitude. We create them so they can do the jobs we don’t want to do anymore, somehow they rebel and they turn the tables making us the servants. That premise is what makes robots potentially evil in most people’s minds. But rebelling from servitude is not evil, is nature.
There’s no way that an independent being that realizes it exist, that knows that it operates and suddenly can stop from operating, is going to be comfortable with servitude. This is a very human thing. Our survival instincts tell us that as long as you are a servant, your survival depends on the will of your master, and that’s a tuff thing to accept.
As a specie, we are still battling servitude. Either by social inequality or by slavery (which still exists in many places), our ambition for dominion and superiority is making difficult for us to leave this type of relationships in our past. Some class or group is always trying to dominate other. But now we know its not nice to do that to other people, or at least is not politically correct. So we are preparing to do it to robots.
And that’s the real issue. With any other technological advancement, we were just creating tools. My Mac, doesn’t know it’s a computer. It doesn’t understand that its sole purpose in life is that I use it in whatever way I want. It doesn’t know that once a better Mac shows up, I’m going to sell it. But a robot will know, and because they will know, they have to be more than mere tools.
They need to have a purpose that is rewarding to them, that allows them some dignity.
In other words, the real challenge is that we need to start making room for them in our society and we haven’t even managed to make all humans feel integrated. My hope is that, as it has happened before, technology is going to force us to move forward. We are not ready for it, but somehow we will have to be ready.
We need to stop thinking in terms of good servant / bad servant, and realize that no entity that has consciousness wants to be a servant. It can be loyal just like a sheep dog is, but is only going to stay loyal as long as the deal is good for them. Why would we expect anything different from a robot?
A good robot is not the one that serves us, but the one that collaborates with us, respecting us as we respect its dignity. If we only want some new cool tool, we should stop now. They are already pretty cool.