How we will happily be treated like dogs

On the robot-human-dog relationship

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Photo by Victor Bezrukov

Professor Hugo de Garis at Xiamen University says in the documentary Transcendent Man that super-intelligent machines of the future will swat us humans like mosquitoes as soon as they find out we’re useless to them. However, the mosquito analogy is flawed. We don’t swat mosquitoes because they are inferior; we swat them because they are tiny. The smaller a living creature, the less we seem to care. You and me don’t strangle cats and dogs on a daily basis, not mice, pigeons or horses. Most often the common citizen doesn’t even kill non-cute animals.

A subsequent idea is that the human-dog relationship of today more aptly describes our probable future, in which we are pets to our robot overlords. After enabling true artificial intelligence, we’ll watch our creation grow. Sooner or later all agree the new ones could run society far more efficiently than ever ourselves. Them solving poverty, nutrition, diseases, housing, and so forth, few will long for the old days of human reign. Previously established politics and systems of governance will seem more or less done and obsolete.

Many future scenarios assume ownership of robots will continue, as has our ownership of pets through the transition from servant animals to best friends. But will not this ownership relation at some point reverse? As strange it may sound, not only could this happen by the will of the robots, but be welcomed by humans.

Imagine being presented a life in which you are entirely freed from manual labour or any involuntary labour at all. You are served wonderful food when you want it, living in a house that needs no maintenance. This life is something like the equivalent of staying at a fine hotel, permanently, only doing things you enjoy all day long. And everyone you know has as much time on their hands as well. No one is ever ill or dies. Wealth is in abundance, monetary or otherwise. Likely, a vast majority would say yes to such an offer without second thought.

This is certainly a pet-like life. Today we’re hosts and stewards to our dogs, tomorrow robots will provide us with the same hospitality. But to a higher degree of freedom than we admit our pets. We’d travel, stay out at night, meet other people at any time, and so on. Even a more restricted mode of living ought to be okay, say, only a smaller allowance of pocket money, or not getting to decide on the thermostat temperature. Or being mandated to stay in the house after midnight on weekdays.

The extent to which we’d let our robot masters impose on our lives probably differs from person to person, but the rewards in return would, in any case, be so plentiful that being, in effect, owned might be acceptable to many. We will happily be treated like dogs.

Written by

Film scholar and technologist with an MA in Cinema Studies. Wrote thesis on cyborgs in film. 15+ years in the computer industry. Science fiction cinema host.

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