Friday, April 20, 2007

RSA Ethical Futures - Loving the Machine

Timothy N. Hornyak
Loving the Machine: the Art and Science of Japanese Robots
Kodansha International, 2006, 629.892 HOR

As advancements and breakthroughs in science and technology become increasingly frequent and further reaching, scientists, politicians, the media and society as a whole are beginning to think more and more deeply about the possibilities for human existence in the future.

Long existing in our imaginations through science fiction books and films, ideas such as dramatically extended or infinite human life expectancy or robots that replicate human actions and emotions are beginning to enter the realms of possibility. There are scientists who believe that the first human to live to 1000 has already been born, and as the book Loving the Machine illustrates, robots or 'humanoids' of various kinds are already being developed as commercial products in Japan.

The book, supported by author Timothy N. Hornyak's blog, is more than a celebration of robots and their potential impact on our lives. It focuses on Japan, not simply because this is where the biggest developments are being made, but also because of the unique attitude the country holds toward robots. Hornyak informs us that Japan is 'creating what will likely be the world's first mass robot culture'. What is perhaps most interesting is the Japanese attraction to specifically designing robots with human characteristics that encourage us to express the kind of emotions towards robots that we would only normally express towards other living things. Indeed, the Japanese economy is the only one that has really shown an interest in developing robots as mass consumer goods, designed to entertain people as pets or even friends.

However, a future in which humans have relationships with robots that replicate their relationships with other humans creates another element of uncertainty surrounding the future relationship between human, 'post-human' and robotic states. To consider this and many other issues arising from the prospect of a 'post-human' world, the RSA Programme team has created an Ethical Futures Project to question how our society might ethically comprehend and deal with this challenge.

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