Paul Elisha: Robotics Sans Empathy = Regression

Sep 10, 2013

A most recent episode of the long-running and vaunted TV program , “60-Minutes,” entered the descriptive realm of ‘Historic’ in its highly documented interview with a respected physician-turned-research engineer, who shared the profound announcement that he and his colleagues have initiated the revolutionary and computerized era of ‘Robotics.’

For this viewer, the announcement was more a cause for concern than the excited admiration that the host-interviewer revealed in his continuing questions, which elicited more disturbing and unanswerable questions than he might have initially considered.  The physician leading the research-team effort, described robotic instruments capable of replacing the presence of actual health-care professionals, at various stages of patient contact, already in service but was unable to give accurate reports of outcomes.

The interview also revealed ongoing use of robots in place of humans, with increased incidence in various manufacturing efforts by corporate producers of automotive and other related products.  Left disturbingly unanswered was the question of what would then become of those human workers, displaced by the process.

At a historic juncture, in which increasing numbers of our national workforce are still without remunerative employment, while robotic inventions of our armed forces are playing more incisive roles related to combat, this observer is strongly inspired to reflect on the grim warning of the cyberneticist, Norbert Wiener, in his 1964 essay: “God and Golem, Inc.

“The future,” he wrote, “offers little hope for those who expect that our new mechanical slaves will offer us a world in which we may rest from thinking. ----- Help us they may but at the cost of supreme demands on our honesty and intelligence.  The world of the future will not be a hammock we can lie in, to be waited on by robot slaves.”

This commentator now finds himself stirred to wonder:  How many others may be as troubled, as he is, by the grim prospect of the looming and un-empathic cybernetic morass we are apparently doomed to face?

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