What is man?


Picture from SFbook.com. Posted under fair use policy. No rights implied or assumed.

The three laws of robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Isaac Asimov. Runaround (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942)

In Bicentennial Man (the story, not the Robin Williams movie which is a poor adaptation of the good doctor's work), Dr. Asimov tells the story of Andrew, an NDR series robot who struggles to become human and finally accomplishes it. Bicentennial Man is yet another fantastic tour de force by Dr. Asimov, a fantastic insight into what means to be human... even though the story is about a robot.

I found today another robot story that explores the meaning of being a man. Article of faith, by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe, october 2008 and EP193 of Escape pod) goes into the tricky question of whether a robot has a soul. (Article of faith, by the way, is a 2009 Hugo Nominee. If you don't know what an Hugo award is, there is always Google...)

Regardless of whether a soul is an attribute of either man or machine, both Dr. Asimov and Mr. Resnick have hit the nail on the head: being man is not about shape or origin but about the ability to think and reason. Both Andrew (Bicentennial Man) and Jackson (Article of faith) while made of metal and with plenty of bolts and nuts, thought like a man and struggled to find their place in the universe; in both cases, that quest ultimately meant their demise: by choice, in the case of Andrew and by violence, in the case of Jackson.

Who knows if we will ever be able to generate artificial intelligence so capable that it may struggle with these deep questions. But science fiction is always at hand, to prod us into thinking and speculating on the possibilities.

And I just heard someone saying that impossible just means I don't know how to do it...


4 comments:

El ultimo De Paz said...

Please, just give me a little time.

Zarek said...

What? before we replace you with a robot?

Edwin Méndez said...

!I know very well who he will would like to replace for¡

Gary said...

Asimov rocks! I haven't read anything from the robot series, but I read the first 5 books of the Foundation series, which by the end meshes nicely with the whole robot thing. Very interesting reads...