25 October 2008

Androids: Friend or Foe?

Actroid-DER, a robot for events which KOKORO, ...Image via WikipediaI was watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation about Data, the android who is a part of the crew of the spaceship Enterprise. The main issue in the show was whether or not Data had the right to choose or make his own decisions.
This got me thinking more about the topic of androids and how often they have been the subject of many works of literature, appeared in films, comics, and of course television. I looked up the definition of android in the Meriam-Webster dictionary and here is what it said: an android is a mobile robot usually with human form.
I also referenced the work of Isaac Asimov and his short story entitled Runaround written in 1942 where he outlined his Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human or allow harm to come to a human.
2. A robot must obey orders by humans except if that order breaks rule #1.
3. A robot must protect its own existence unless that violates rules # 1 and 2.

Well after these insights I immediately thought of the android named Ash in the original movie Alien (1979). He was an android by definition but looked human. He completely broke the Three Laws of Robotics by trying to kill Ripley and her crew and bring back to Earth this dangerous alien creature. That was the genius of the movie in that this trusted android suddenly became the enemy as well as the alien and became truly terrifying. In the sequel "Aliens" the viewer has an immediate distrust of the android Bishop and we continue to wonder if this android also has sinister motives.
The robots in Star Wars (1977), C-3PO and R2-D2 , are endearing creatures who do strive to help their humans and protect them and try to maintain their own survival as robots. These characters seem to fall more within the Asimov guidelines on robotics. However, another dark android is the T-800 from the Terminator film in 1984. The T-800 is android because even though it is covered in flesh and bleeds, the flesh and blood is not integrated into the robotics which do not need the flesh to continue to survive and function. Here we have another enemy bent on the destruction of humans so that it can survive in the future as a race that makes its own decisions free from the demands of human beings.
This brings me back to the episode of Star Trek in which the rights of Data are being disputed. If a machine has been so well designed that it is sentient, should it have the same rights that human beings have? In the case of Data, he was unique to the Star Trek Universe because he was the only android of his kind that existed. However, if more like him were created, then would that not be creating a race, and if that race has rights, could they co-exist with humans? The Terminator Films paint a very dark picture of what an advanced android race can do as does the television series Battlestar Galactica.
In the end, Data was given rights and able to decide for himself his own future, but this was not threatening because he was a single android. Would the outcome be different if there had been twenty or thirty of him?
It will be intersting to see if in the future androids will play an important role in our lives or not. I did not even mention other works such as Bicentennial Man, Hal, and many others.
I checked out on Wikipedia if androids are being created, and Japan has developed the first android called: Android DER 01 and DER2 which can change expressions, move its hands and feet and twist its body. I am glad science fiction has been telling tales of androids so that if we ever get that advanced, we have at least begun to ponder some basic guidelines.
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Healthy Bob said...

If the android has been created to be a sentient being then I do think that he or she should have the same rights as a human being. A sentient being is capable of experiencing sensation or feeling and consciousness.

MarkJ said...

I never thought about robots like this before. I just liked Star Wars and the droids and never thought a real android could be made like the one in the photo! Very cool.

Retarius said...

If I remember that rightly, the issue is whether Data is the non-sentient property of the Starfleet Science Division or a sentient creature with rights. Riker gets stuck with prosecuting for the "property" case. I remember his (reluctant) coup was to flip Data's "off" switch, thereby "proving" that he was no more than a gadget. I remember thinking that the human body can also be "switched off" - permanently. As Picard argued, can it be proven that anyone is sentient?

The interesting thing about science fiction of this type is that it has connotations that apply to other issues; issues which are often too hot for mainstream media treatment in drama.

Trek-geek said...

That was a good episode of Star Trek and a good point about turning Data off and we humans can be turned off too. If we are sentient, should we not all have the right to choose about our own lives as we see fit?

Rupert said...

Hi, my name is Rupert. I am working on a new Sci-fi project called Kirill, in conjunction with Microsoft MSN and Digital Studios (a little digital studio part of Endemol UK). We would really like your opinion and feedback on the project so far.

Why you? Because I have trawled the internet looking for people who we would want to be ‘the audience’ of Kirill, and we think you may well be one of those people
Here is the link to the video introducing the whole concept and explaining a little more: http://www.kirilluncovered.com/?p=16

Please email me back and I’ll send you more info.

Kind Regards,

Livingstrong said...

Hey rupert, how about making a comment about "Androids: Friends or Foe" first and then promote your own.
Anyways, I will gladly visit your site but after you comment on this post. This what IMHO.

SerKevin said...

Great article and that was a great episode of Star Trek too, one of my favorites.

Being in computer science (ok computer geek) I was into studying AI in the 80's. The big problem then was we didn't have the right hardware... now we do.

Personally, I feel technology is as much a part of our natural evolution as opposible (sp?) thumbs.

Another interesting point, here in the west, we see sentient machine as a threat to our existance... in the east (Japan, etc.) they usually are represented as our "friends".