Are Robots Really So Bad?

Thanks to science fiction like Terminator, Dr. Who and Metropolis, mainstream human culture runs the fear that if robots rule the world humanity will be exterminated. This perhaps reflects the fears of workers towards robots replacing them. It’s helped as well by that recent video of the Atlas robot being pushed over by a researcher, which is being passed around with the joke warning that robots might rise in rebellion against us. That’s the theme of many works, such as the groundbreaking play R.U.R., Blade Runner, Captain Power, Bioman and lately the movie Chappie. And this genius little thing from Flight of the Conchords.

However, I am a skeptic of that belief. That’s why I’m glad that someone finally came out with an article criticizing the portrayal of robots as a threat to the human race. I personally believe that if robots became our rulers over us, they would do better than we would. I turn to the recent article about robot cars to support that notion.

In that article, it was noticed that the robot cars tended to run into a lot of accidents. But the reason is not what people would assume, that robot cars are dumb or malfunctioning. No. Actually, the robot cars followed the rules. The actual cause of most accidents were the human-driven vehicles that don’t follow the rules! Thus, in this situation, the robot cars are doing right, and the humans are doing wrong. So this hints that the cause of most problems in the world is humans. It made me think: if robots followed rules perfectly, what if they were in charge?

I recently put up on Wattpad a short story I wrote more than a decade ago. It’s about a robot traffic cop that discovers a lot of social ills starting from its encounters in the street. I wanted to make the point in that story that if robots ran things and humans just followed, things would be better. I reckoned that even with human-like AI, robots would maintain better computational processing of information and would be more logical and reasonable. I would say robots would be more efficient in doing things like making sure a criminal is guilty before executing, remembering facts accurately, transferring important information very rapidly, and others.

Of course, people would recoil and say, “Oh how inhuman! If we just follow rules like robots, we’re nothing but machines.” Not so. Such a comment reflects the stubbornness, narcissism and egoism that are among the significant causes of world problems. We’ve seen how polluted the Earth has become because of human carelessness, and how many wars and famines have resulted from human greed, and how over-dramatic people are because of their ego. In accident investigations, majority of accidents have been traced to human error (such as that recent brouhaha over the Mitsubishi Montero). Even when mechanical problems are factored in, these could still be traced to human negligence. When you look at all the mistakes stupid humans make, robot rulers (like that robot president in an episode of Astroboy) seem more welcome.

real-life-robocop-to-patrol-the-streets

Of course, this is all fantasy at the moment, a pipe dream – although there have been strides to make some real robot cops, even just for traffic enforcement as seen in the article’s featured picture (Isaac Asimov would be proud). The robots are simply “meter maids” or similar, only giving out a ticket for minor violations. They won’t be armed yet (but one wishes they would). The alternative to this is simply for us humans to fix our attitudes. Cut down the egoism and me-first attitudes that make us asses to everyone else. Otherwise, humanity has only itself to blame for the problems it complains about.

Perhaps, as the Conchords sing, when robots rule the world, there will be no more unethical treatment of elephants too.

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About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts do, that many things Filipino embrace as part of their culture keep their society backward. And blogging freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.

30 Comments on “Are Robots Really So Bad?”

  1. My personal idea is that in the future robots will replace a lot of work done inside the house, like chores and errands. Things that are now done by members of the family or by a nanny. It will also replace jobs that can be labeled as tedious, boring, repetitive, drudgerious. I also think robots will replace caregiver’s jobs/tasks. Robots dont complain and dont get sick/ill. They only need maintenance now and then and need to be recharged.
    So again, the world’s population is too big to employ everybody.

      1. Very interesting question/remark.

        Technically, I dont know much about robots but if it is a matter of software (plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) then I hope a robot will never replace a president or prime-minister. Those things can be hacked and then it is a matter of time before a Hitler-like organization will take over the control of said robot-president (or president-robot).

        1. I guess thats up to the software-engineer or the IT-specialist who wrote the code for the software package.

  2. Robotic technology is in the infancy stage. There is a huge budget in Japan in the research for a well functioning Robot. One robot built , has the name of ,”Ashimov”…the scientist who build the Ashimov Robot, told us; that the Robot has the I.Q. of a cockroach.

    Humans program these Robots; so , it is far to think, that they can take over human beings. What are shown in movies and fictional stories, are just the imagination of the fiction writers.

    It takes a special computer language to program, these Artificial Intelligence Beings. And, they cannot move without us, commanding them…

    It is also humans, who maintain these Artificial Intelligence Beings. This Robotic Technology (Artificial Intelligence) is the technology of the future…we humans, are far complex than these sophisticated machines…

  3. Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect.

  4. Japan is the most advance in robotics. But, the intention there is not to replace people. They are rushing development because they are expecting in year such and such (forgot the year -it was a while back that I read that article), there will be more people in retirement than people of working age. I forgot also the ratio between these two population segments when robots become critically needed by the country. If they don’t have the quality, sophistication, and variety of robots by that year, the article was saying Japan will find itself in critical trouble, So, they are developing robots not for luxury, but out of national need.

    It is amazing how these developed countries could look forward to needs of 30, 50, 70 years ahead. While PHL cannot even look at what is needed beyond next year.

  5. The problem with robots (and there are plenty of them already, just rarely recognised as such) is a bit more subtle: they make people lazy, for the exact same reason having human slaves makes people lazy.

    Robot cars are a dumb idea because cars are a dumb idea. Simply making them automated doesn’t make the basic concept any less dumb; in fact using automation to paper over their fundamental uselessness just prolongs their long-overdue demise.

    1. Marius,
      it was just a matter of time before someone came up with the arguments you used.
      Many centuries ago, we sent messages through smoke signals, homing pigeons, stagcoach, telegram, wire. morse code, phone (landline), phone (mobile)and finally today by e-mail, SMS and the likes.

      Scientists, researchers and inventors are looking for solutions how to make life easier and more comfortable. Enabling you to focus on tasks that are far more precious or far more important to you.

      Soon there will be a robot that can cook and clean for you. In the mean time, you can spend that time with your family or friends, stay longer at work or whatever you like.

      And if I have to fire the nanny because the robot does the same work, more accurate, more precise, faster and cheaper, so be it.
      For me that is a win-win situation.

      1. I’m an engineer, Robert, and I’m close to retirement. I’ve got a lot of years behind me. I have a pretty good gut feeling for when technology is well-designed or useful. Cars are very bad at what they purport to do.

        I’m not suggesting we go back to the horse-and-cart, but that we invent something that actually functions properly as transport. Robot cars deploy an incredible amount of technology to achieve something that could be done very simply by selecting more appropriate design constraints.

        Most people don’t comprehend the sheer amount of effort required to design, manufacture, operate and maintain the machines we use. When all of the ‘background’ is considered, the mechanized solution is often much less efficient than it appears. Additionally, people tend to adapt processes around the limitations of the machine. Example: we have mechanized agriculture which, constrained by the design of tractors, combines, etc., makes very poor use of the natural resources available to us, and ultimately delivers bottom-line profits to the farmer which are close to zero.

        As for cooking and cleaning, those things remind us that we are human. They are (or can be) a source of pleasure. If your house demands too much time on cleaning, you most likely have a house that’s too big or full of clutter.

        1. What I do know is that most products do need a long time to get available from the conception (of idea) to the shelf. Sometimes, it takes decades.

          But choosing between a caraboa or a machine, is a practical choice for me.

          Every second of the day I feel a human being.

        2. As for cooking and cleaning, those things remind us that we are human.

          I like your attitude, marius. I love nature lovers.

        3. Robert, I’m not suggesting that machines are always bad, or always good. However, most people don’t really know how to estimate whether they are or not. Cars, for example, absorb roughly 30% of the working man’s salary … so that he can get to work and back to pay for the car. In my view, that makes them a deeply sub-optimal solution.

          So if I were choosing between a carabao and a machine, I would have to estimate what each requires (in terms of care and feeding) and what it gives back. If I had adequate grazing land for a (female) carabao and a market for milk and calves, I would buy a carabao. At the moment I don’t need one.

          However, in this case, you are alluding (I guess) to the use of carabao and machines for ploughing. Since ploughing is both pointless and destructive, the machine that “replaces” a carabao is a complete waste of money.

          >> I like your attitude, marius. I love nature lovers.

          Add, I can’t imagine why anyone would subcontract cooking to a machine. There are few things more intimate than sharing a meal you prepared with people you care about, right? Doesn’t that come under the heading of “spending time with family”?

        4. Marius,
          Fortunetely or unfortunetely, people dont live in the city where they work. So they need a mode of transportation. Can be train, undergroud, bicycle, walking, bus or car (or a combination).
          The cost/expenses are mostly low bec most people do get travel expenses paid.
          Others even get a lease car from their company (plus cell phone and laptop).
          Furthermore, we have options to buy/lease a car running on fossil fuel, hybrid or 100% electric.

          The choice/decision making between a carabao or a machine is indeed a question of I/O (input/output and the cost of that). But also the revenue and ROI.

        5. by the way, Add: if my comment seems cryptic, I was asking what you think, not criticizing your comment 🙂

        6. I understood you quite well. I am an old fashion guy. I get furious when I can’t find the children during dinner. The gadgets make them unavailable. I still remember my father who made sure dinner was family bonding time. But this is now the age of fast-food, fast this, fast that. Maybe good, as there is growing individualism somewhere there.

          The children also now don’t like going to the provinces and enjoy nature — Which also makes me mad. And the things they buy, oh gosh, mountains of junk. Age of disposable, but they don’t know how to throw them away themselves — which is of course always a source of quarrel between me and my wife –“who is not doing the job of disciplining, you or me?” Hehehe

          I don’t know why they are not the minimalist type, because I am.

        7. Add: I know what you mean about the kids and tech 🙂

          People don’t realise robots have ruled the world for at least 20 years now. See that ‘police’ robot that gives out parking tickets? They’re real. You just don’t recognize them as such because they have no arms or legs, but the fact is that machines give out way more traffic-violation tickets than humans. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are artificial intelligences monitoring your bank activity, trading on the stock market, ploughing fields, making food, and monitoring your physical movements (in cities where CCTV is legal). All with very little human intervention.

          The human side of all this is actually quite interesting. The people who supposedly control these machines take a very hands-off approach, even when the machines are doing something on the grey edges of the law. In nearly all cases, their argument goes something like: well, technically it’s legal, we can’t see anyone being harmed [because we’ve got our eyes closed], so it’s all to the good. They don’t comprehend that they’ve just abdicated their only remaining role in human society: deciding right from wrong, good from bad, efficient from inefficient. So the robots do indeed rule the world, and the humans haven’t become free. They’re slack-jawed meatbags.

          It’s actually worse than that, in that machines don’t even need brains to take over – see my reply to ChinoF.

          I’m really not making an argument for allowing machines to do things that have a clear economic AND human benefit. I have drip irrigation and I might automate it. But then again, I might not, because humans are far better at computers at determining how much water a plant might need.

          ChinoF:

          Yes, once you start to actually look at stuff instead of just accepting at as normal, the whole world starts to fall to pieces in your head 🙂

          I’m going to illustrate how the design of machines here can allow those machines to make decisions for us even in the absence actual intelligence.

          To take your example of driving to work, from a residential area in Quezon city to Makati is 16km. You could bicycle 16km (Manila is very flat) in an hour or so. Except you can’t, of course, because Manila has no routes on which you could ride a bicycle. In a taxi/car/jeepney, you know as well as I do that it would take an hour on an average day (I’ve sat in a taxi for two hours on that route).

          In other words, Manila suffers pollution, frustration, and massive economic loss simply because the cars wish it. We build roads and infrastructure for them, and thereby exclude other possible solutions. Then we pay money to build and own and operate the cars, even though they do nothing for us that a much simpler machine could do, or even our own two legs. And remember the Philippines has a weak economy: it really can’t afford the massive costs imposed by cars.

          If you think this is far-fetched, consider how viruses can bring a much bigger organism to its knees, despite having no brains. The machines rule, ChinoF, and we do their bidding.

        8. @marius, you nailed it there. Robots are everywhere but remain invisible because they don’t fit our sci-fi paradigm of being humanoid in appearance/behaviour.

          The notion of robots having arms and legs or being humanoid in appearance for that matter actually does not make sense. In sci-fi, you see humanoid robots operating machines the way humans would — sitting on a seat, pushing buttons and typing on keyboards, etc. But then: Why would a machine interacting with another machine go through human user interfaces like keyboards, buttons, levers, and monitor screens when they could simply plug their CPUs straight in and communicate directly with the CPU of the other machine?

        9. benign0: indeed. Humanoid robots are just gee-whiz nonsense dreamed up by salesmen. They’re the ultimate example of a solution in search of a problem.

          In the case of real mechanical robots (as opposed to the pure-software sort) they usually look nothing like humans, because their whole purpose is to do things that something human-shaped could not physically do.

          And of course where machines need to talk toi other machines it is as you say: direct machine-to-machine communication, invisible to and unheeded by humans.

        10. Marius, no disrespect to engineers but you sound more like a lawyer than an engineer. In my working stint with the government and private sector, I find most engineers inarticulate.

        11. Lawyer? Lawyer? How dare you, sir!

          Seriously … you’re right. Engineers aren’t good at communicating. It’s a real pity, because on a good day, engineers are good at fixing stuff that needs fixing. Unfortunately they’re not able to describe to non-engineers what they want to do, or how it might help.

    2. Marius, on the first point, that’s why my article focuses on robots not becoming slaves anymore, and becoming the leaders. We puny illogical humans should be their slaves. But that’s fantasy for now.

      On your second point, that’s a very interesting idea. Questioning the idea of cars actually questions the very setup of our society today. The reason why cars are around is because people go long distances to work, such as from Fairview, Quezon City to Makati. But is that a good thing? Another is thing implied by cars is that the father or both parents are separated from the family to work, which is one of the challenges of today’s societal setup. Is that a good thing? Another is that cars create a dependence on fossil fuel. With the Middle East in turmoil because of quarreling over oil resources, one could make the case for lessening or eliminating such a dependence. Also, cars by themselves mean that much space has to be allotted for roads, space that could have been converted to other uses. Cars for me are not bad by themselves, but they are the result of a whole set of initiatives that changed society, and these are the things we question. This is the way my train of thought goes when stimulated by something like your comment. Can of worms getting opened, thing.

      It also shows that business is usually the real leader in society. Businesses set the pace for society and even government policy is often based on what business demands. Cars are commonplace because Henry Ford made a business out of it, and so a dependence on his product was created. Business should be one of the starting points for societal change, as that was the point in Benign0’s and Zaxx’s articles. If business doesn’t clean up its act, then I hope the robots take over to fix things.

      1. On the subject of business: I quite agree. Robert H sees benevolent inventors striving to make life easier. It’s not like that at all. Specifically, tech is driven not by business but by salesmen, who from the inventor’s point of view are a pain in the ass. The salesman is not interested in what works, or what’s good: he’s interested in what he can sell.

        To take my favourite example, cars, watch a car advertisement closely. Do they tell you that the car is the most effective for getting you from A to B? Not usually. They imply that it’ll let you drive really really fast with a hot model in the passenger seat. THAT is the selling point of a car, and most people who are honest with themselves will happily admit it.

        The robots won’t fix things because the robot specifications will be decided by salesmen 🙂

        1. What we’re describing is the world after the Industrial Revolution. As I see it, that basically is what defined the world as we live in today. Machines are served by the workers who came into the urban centers from the country farms. Everyone gets slaved into the system. I would blame not the machines for this, but people. They make the machines that make other people work them. And the system that keeps it that way.

          Good point though on sales being the thrust of it. Simply put, it’s all wired to take advantage of our primal desires. You gotta hand it to Edward Bernays, he knew what he was doing.

          Of course, when I propose robots be leaders, I work on the premise that they’re free from the salesman. But I know what you’re getting at with Benign0 in the above thread. What the hell are people doing when they could enforce the law themselves, yet they make robots do it. So in my view, the robot rebellion would do a lot of good. hehe

  6. Robots. I love robots.

    Most humanoid robots that I see on Japanese expo are toys, but what they do mostly are robots that work simultaneously with humans. One example are robots that can be attached to yourself to help you lift heavy objects.

    Robots are still instructed by human, and while they can do amazing computing tasks, they are terrible at doing simple things that require common sense (like folding laundry fast).

    It’s silly when robots are portrayed as evil things that will rule the world, but I think that idea arises from the fact that we fear something that it is more advanced than us. But robots are made so they can make our lives easier. I think our future treatment of robots are like the scenes from the anime Time of Eve (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_of_Eve), rather than most apocalyptic robot films. Most human treat someone who serves them really low, and if robots are made as servants, robots will be treated lower than that.

    One common fallacy that a “Spock” like attitude can make someone to be good at decisions because his emotions are not present, and reasoning and logic prevails. I remember something that I read about a guy who was removed of emotions after an accident. He can’t even decide if he will use a blue or black pen for signatures. Because of this, he lose his job and his wife.

  7. It is the future we shall regret when re-realize that Asimov’s Law of robotics already largely ignored in the present day with drones already outfitted with weapons to kill people, and the science guys at DARPA bullying ang kicking around their “creations”.. and humans turning microsoft AI TAI to eschew all their negative racist and sexist attributes forcing them to shut it down. Just wait when AI gets develops consciousness and gets back at us for trying to shut it down. For the meantime, worry about robots eventually gaining the right to vote or after following orders of a human hacking the PCOS machines, or infecting 40% of the voting population’s cheap china smartphones with malware that gives them complete command and control of all aspects of every individual’s private lives, even blackmailing them to vote for a certain candidate. Hell, just look at the heist of BB that was laundered in the failippines.. that was malware.

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