Al Fin, You Sexy Thing!

11 November 2006

Robots--The End of Our World?

"The Rise of the Robot" is the headline of a recent story by the Sydney Morning Herald. The author gives fascinating examples of advances in robot technology, and wonders where it is all heading--particularly since there has recently been a great deal of interest in the topic of sex with robots.

Hospitals in the US and Europe are already using robotic systems to help surgeons in increasingly complex operations. For several years they have been used to show surgeons 3-D views of operations in progress. With fanciful names such as da Vinci and Zeus, robotic surgical systems are widely used for cutting and sewing, and assisting in delicate operations in which a non-tremulous assistant can be invaluable. Hospitals use robots as couriers to deliver drugs, meals and medical specimens while nurses get on with more demanding jobs.

In September US Marine Claudia Mitchell became the first woman to receive a bionic arm after a motorcycle accident. Controlled by rerouted nerves in her shoulder to muscles in her chest, the movements of her new robotic arm have become so sophisticated, she is is able to peel an orange.

Meanwhile, her fellow marines in Iraq and Afghanistan get to see the cutting edge of military and disaster-zone robots. Hundreds of bomb disposal robots are being used there to defuse explosive devices.

....The US military has estimated that by 2115, 30 per cent of all military flight missions and 10 per cent of ground movements will be unmanned. Locally, the Australian Navy is planning to buy a robot to perform undersea rescues. The remote-controlled underwater vehicle can speed to a bottomed submarine and keep the crew alive until a rescue boat arrives.

Robots seem to be an ideal solution for extreme conditions. Despite the arguments among scientists over the merits of manned over unmanned space flight, US space agency NASA has said it will send robots to the moon between 2008 and 2011 and will keep using robots to study Mars.

....Recently, senior robotics scientist Henrik Christensen, a member of the European Robotic Research Networks ethics group, made the extraordinary declaration that "people are going to be having sex with robots within five years".

Perhaps visions of Daryl Hannah as the "pleasure-model" replicant in Blade Runner inspired the work of German inventor Michael Harriman, who claims to have invented the world's most sophisticated robotic sex doll. According to news reports, the doll's heart beats faster during sex and internal heaters raise its body temperature.

Of course, robots are increasingly common as children's toys. Nothing lowers the guard of society more readily than for an object to become a child's toy. But should we be afraid?

Noted columnist Mark Steyn writes in Macleans that perhaps our fixation with robots may be a symptom of a societal decadence that marks our society--our world--for extinction.

In The Children Of Men, P. D. James' dystopian fantasy about a barren world, there are special dolls for women whose maternal instinct has gone unfulfilled: pretend mothers take their artificial children for walks on the street or to the swings in the park. In Japan, that's no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy. At the beginning of the century, the country's toy makers noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn't have many. What to do? In 2005, Tomy began marketing a new doll called Yumel -- a baby boy with a range of 1,200 phrases designed to serve as companions for the elderly. He says not just the usual things -- "I wuv you" -- but also asks the questions your grandchildren would ask if you had any: "Why do elephants have long noses?" Yumel joins his friend, the Snuggling Ifbot, a toy designed to have the conversation of a five-year old child which its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile. It seems an appropriate final comment on the social democratic state: in a childish infantilized self-absorbed society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you need never stop playing with toys. We are the children we never had.

And why leave it at that? Is it likely an ever smaller number of young people will want to spend their active years looking after an ever greater number of old people? Or will it be simpler to put all that cutting-edge Japanese technology to good use and take a flier on Mister Roboto and the post-human future? After all, what's easier for the governing class? Weaning a pampered population off the good life and re-teaching them the lost biological impulse or giving the Sony Corporation a licence to become the Cloney Corporation? If you need to justify it to yourself, you'd grab the graphs and say, well, demographic decline is universal. It's like industrialization a couple of centuries back; everyone will get to it eventually, but the first to do so will have huge advantages: the relevant comparison is not with England's early 19th century population surge but with England's Industrial Revolution. In the industrial age, manpower was critical. In the new technological age, manpower will be optional -- and indeed, if most of the available manpower's Muslim, it's actually a disadvantage. As the most advanced society with the most advanced demographic crisis, Japan seems likely to be the first jurisdiction to embrace robots.....and embark on the slippery slope to transhumanism.

Of course, Steyn is talking about the demographic crisis in the west--the failure of western nations to sustain their populations in the face of an undeniable demographic/cultural/ideological threat from the primitive world. The rapidly procreating primitive world.

Sex dolls and sex robots are merely sophisticated masturbation aids. But if these surrogates lead to an even more rapid depletion of population in the more enlightened, educated western countries--are they helping to lead us to our ultimate doom? Not necessarily.

With advancing technology in one area, there is generally advancing technology in other areas. Perhaps western men will react to a side effect of the more radical fringes of feminism--the increasing dispensability of men--by turning to high-tech sex surrogates. But sperm banks and artificial wombs can help to prop up the population levels of even decadent societies.

Who will raise the little tikes is another question. Robot nannies and governesses? You had better expect something along those lines--sooner rather than later.

Robots may very well bring about the end of one world, and usher in another world, more alien perhaps, but perhaps more viable in the long run.

The primary issue that all societies should entertain, is the issue of survival. Mark Steyn raises some highly relevant survival issues at the Macleans article above. A small amount of thought should bring others readily to mind. Technology should always be at the service of humanity. Remember that.

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