Few scientific endeavors capture human attention as much as robots. The idea of mechanical beings that can do (almost) everything we do and thus make our lives better is something that has been dreamt of by futurists for several decades. And now that we are at the precipice of making this a reality, many people are worried — what happens when robots become better than humans?
Robots and jobs
Our entire society has been built on the foundation of human supremacy. Being the dominant intellectual species on Earth, this is only natural. Topographies are altered to suit our needs of settlements and agriculture. Plants and animals are crossbred to fill our bellies and other needs. We are also tampering with genetics, atmospheric control, and other such advanced sciences which essentially makes earth our playground. But what if robots come along and do these things far better than us?
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If the bulk of the human population that provides services like farming, cleaning, cooking, driving, etc., can be replaced with robots and AI (artificial intelligence), many would jump at the opportunity. Imagine a huge property in which only a single person resides while AI and robots manage its security and maintenance. This is not a fantasy anymore, but it’s a soon-to-be realized reality.
A robot cook can prepare any dish in the world you want perfectly. All it needs to do is to download the recipe instantly and follow the instructions. It can also adjust the dish to your taste preferences with greater accuracy. A robot cleaner can keep wiping the floors and walls all day long, ensuring that the property is in good condition always. An AI can have eyes all over the property, coordinating with various robots to take care of intruders. These are things that humans cannot match.
In fact, robots will start doing things so differently that it might be impossible for human beings to catch up. Imagine a robot cook with eight hands preparing three breakfast dishes for a family simultaneously. How is a human being even expected to match this? It would be impossible. When robots set such high standards, the value of human beings as employees is likely to come down. This is why Elon Musk warned people about robots taking over — because they will do things better than us.
Robots and relationships
Now, imagine being in a relationship with robots and AI, whether as friends or as lovers as depicted in countless sci-fi movies. Some people will likely prefer such relationships rather than real human ones. Think it is impossible? You are wrong. Human beings are already addicted to indirect communication. Rather than spend time together, many youngsters prefer being online, chatting, and tweeting away.
What if the other side ends up being an AI with the perfect psychological tools to understand your needs and respond accordingly? Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her explores this theme perfectly and shows how easy it is for lonely people to be in a relationship with an AI that “understands” them. Maybe society will end up with many people deciding to lock themselves up in their homes all day long, never getting out, never interacting with others, solely relying on the AI, holograms, and robots set up at their place.
This is not to say that humans will entirely abandon direct relationships. Not at all. But the possibility of a certain section doing so is high. We might even have robots raising future human beings! Things get even crazier when people start integrating themselves with machines, turning into part-human and part-machine. Research on similar things is already happening, with scientists working on additional limbs, metal arms, an extra brain that communicates with the normal brain and other connected devices, etc.
What would the value of a human being be in such a situation? More importantly, can such people be called human beings in the traditional sense or will we have to identify them as a separate class or species? What will be considered normal — having a robot friend or not having a robot friend? These are perplexing questions to which we will have answers in the coming decades. Let’s hope that human beings retain their humanity even in such times.