Thursday, June 5, 2008

Robots and Slavery

Previous posts have discussed topics including life extension and asteroid mining. Many people believe that some of the problems I've identified could be overcome by a suitable use of robots.

Robots, by becoming primary producers, could relieve humans of the need to work to support the growing legions of retirees. In Asimov's Foundation series, the wealthiest planets had upwards of a thousand robots per human. The use of robots could, indeed, create wealth.

In my posts, Life in an Asteroid, Our First Colonies in Space, and Colonizing the Solar System, I proposed a space based civilization (asteroid based, to be specific). One objection I've heard several times is that it is cheaper and better to use robots to mine the asteroids, and to launch end-products (or at least refined materials) to Earth. I'll agree that robotic missions are cheaper and inherently safer as far as space exploration and exploitation are concerned, although that is largely based upon the idea that fallible humans can foresee all likely scenarios and make appropriate contingencies. Personally, I'd rather depend upon the ingenuity of people and our proven ability to cope with the unforeseen, and our occasional ability to succeed against all odds. I've spent the bulk of my career as a computer programmer, and I know the challenges of coping with the known. Programming to handle the unknown? Hah!

But I have a problem with using robots: slavery.

It's not that I object to using robots to perform tasks that we humans prefer not to. It's not that we are conscripting robots to work for zero personal gain. It's not even that I'm against enslaving AI's against their will (although the AI's may have a different opinion).

Rather, I think we should take a hard look at the history of slavery. Not the short term cruelty and injustice, but rather the long term: the children of slaves tend to inherit the land of the slavers. A slave revolt is not even necessary--only that there be more slaves than slavers. In the long run, the offspring of the slaves outnumber the offspring of the slavers, and ultimately earn a fair share of the land's wealth. In the long term, the children of the slavers lose their original share of the wealth of the land. Long live the slaves!

In this case, assume for the moment that we can create at least somewhat intelligent robots, capable of performing the menial tasks that humans do today. Assume that we can put them to work, freeing us for "artistic" pursuits. We'll need a large population of robots to do our work--larger than the population of humans, if we want relative wealth and if a (humanoid?) robot has comparable productivity. We'll have to create highly intelligent machines, at least comparable to above average humans, or some of us will be forced to work, anyway. Then we humans can goof off while our robots toil, produce our food, build and maintain our homes, free us from boring, unsavory, or dangerous jobs.

Doesn't this sound like slavery? And isn't the most likely long-term scenario that the offspring of the robots will inherit the Earth?

Malevolence on the part of the machines is not required, only that they have greater numbers, greater productivity, sufficient intelligence and initiative, and that they can reproduce (but that's a given, since they work in the factories that produce them).

Our children may well inherit the Earth, but they're our children only in the sense that we created their metal bodies and silicon brains. Someday, the machines will rule. Is that the life you want for your children?

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

in the future, science and technology menstruation
will make it possible for robots to provide a number of home health care services. From a long term perspective, these advancements may well usher in new paradigms and fundamentally change the way health care is delivered.