The Manchester Armchair Philosophers Meeting Tuesday 16th April 2013 The Royal Oak Chorlton Could You Fall in Love with a Robot

If a robot declared its love for you, how would you react?

The Manchester Armchair Philosophers Meeting Tuesday 16th April 2013 The Royal Oak Chorlton Could You Fall In Love With A Robot

A new venue and a new night. The meetings have moved from The Spread Eagle to the nearby Royal Oak, on Barlow Moor Road, and from Wednesdays to Tuesdays.

The opening meeting in the new home was a very entertaining and thought provoking look at artificial intelligence as a question of whether or not we could love a robot.

Attendees were invited to say who their favourite robots are. Suggestions included Data from Star Trek – The Next Generation, R2D2 and C3PO, from the Star Wars franchise, Mavies (A member’s own sat-nav technology), The Cadbury’s Smash robots, Johnny Five (which two members wanted to choose), Kryten (Red Dwarf), GIR, from Invader Zim, Wall-E’s girlfriend, EVE, Chris and Roy Batty from the film version’s of Philip K Dick’s Bladerunner, as well as the female robots from the same movie, and a real robot called Asimov built by the Honda company.

My own suggestion was an Asimov creation too, Multivac, a robot agony aunt in All The Troubles Of The World and other short robot stories. He becomes suicidally depressed from taking on the burden of all human pain and unhappiness.

Some robots got no mention here, Robot (Lost In Space), Marvin, The Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Robbie The Robot (Forbidden Planet – though he was covered in the literature illustrating the questions to follow), Bender (Futurama), The Iron Giant (Ted Hughes), The (Giant) Robot, Krotons, Quarks, etc from Dr. Who. (I’ll stop there).


Asimov’s famous Three Laws Of Robotics and Alan Turing’s test procedures to gauge the friendliness and human nature of robots gained some mention, but Chris Burke’s introduction led us away from a general discussion of the morality of AI and robotics to questions of love between humans and robots.

Chris’s introduction, based on a story essay supposedly written by a robot from one hundred years or so into our future. The robot asked why we see so many robots in our literature and movies as monsters or dangerous, with examples including Frankenstein’s Monster (an android?) and Hal 9000 from 2001; A Space Odyssey. Other robots are pitiful beings for us to feel sorry for or to find amusing, i.e., Marvin, and R2D2.

Secondly, as we get to depend more on computers and robots to analyse information, and store data, our human ability to perform such tasks is declining. Robots can even create art and write poetry and compose music.

Chris referred to a famous experiment in which a man is left in a small cell-like room, through which he is passed a number of statements written in Chinese, a language he does not understand or speak / write. He merely matches each message to text in a book, and sets it out in the appropriate pattern instructed He answers questions without understanding any of them at all.

Thirdly, the future robot asks us why we assume a robot is always going to be incapable of feeling emotions, or fall in love. It replies that if pricked, a robot will bleed, even if it is machine oils and not blood that spills out. All too often we see the robot as the Tin Man from The Wizard Of Oz, a heartless automaton.

The question was then put to us – If a robot showed signs of affection or amorous behaviour towards us, would we be able to tell if it was programmed to love us or responding to us and assessing us of its own free independent will.

We often doubt if our human partners are being sincere when they declare their love for us or tell us we are the objects of their affections. It would largely depend on who programmed our robot lover, and the range of affections it could share. We can get toys and dolls to say ‘I Love You’ when we pull a cord or press a button. Certain shops online or in areas like Soho cater for people with aides to such affection all the time. Surely a robot that offers affection becomes simply a more sophisticated model of such a doll.

Falling in love with a robot didn’t seem to be a problem – it was how to react to a robot declaring its love for us that was drawing out problematic questions.

It would be difficult to fall in love with a clanking metal hulk of steel or iron that barely looked human at all. Imagine taking it to a restaurant or to the movies. A robot lover who looked humanoid, as in a sophisticated android that others could mistake for human seems more likely to have a successful relationship with a human.

It would probably be necessary for a robot partner to be known as being a robot from the outset. Could we continue to love a partner who we took to be human for months or years before they suddenly removed their face plate and showed us a mass of electronic circuits and microchips on the inside. Could they then put the face back on and expect us to carry on as before, as if nothing had changed? It seems unlikely.

J G Ballard’s Crash and the David Cronenberg movie version of it were cited as examples of how aroused people can become at the thought of machines, especially vehicles. The more we understand and humanize robots the more likely we are to develop feelings for them.

We already communicate our thoughts and feelings by remote, via cell-phones, e-mails, Wifi, etc. There is no body language or eye contact – just the words, and I love You (or I luv U) can be as false as it can be true.  The more robotic the medium of expression the less human we become. Our computers are becoming more human while we ourselves become less so.

We do fear the automaton – Wellsian Utopian visions of robots doing the menial labour while we live like kings in a relaxed happy World have not come true. Instead, the robots car plants have put the workforce out of work – no work = no income. Robots simply fuel the class division between the haves and have nots.

I would be wary of a world of affectionate robots – It is ultimately more Stepford Wives than anything. I would be surrounding myself with technology geared up to massage my ego. A robot would tell me it loves me because it was what I wanted to hear and it would serve the robot well to please me.

The robot might well bring us flowers, and chocolates and never forget our anniversaries, but a robot that loved me of its own free autonomous will could just as easily decide it no longer loves me. What if I was caught having an affair with another robot? Would my robot-wife seek divorce? If so, who would get custody of the house and our children?

There’s a frightful thought – could a robot get pregnant? Would we want that to happen? Then again, what if they could have each other’s children? What need would there be for us puny humans at all?

Arthur Chappell

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