The revolt of the slaves

It seems this week my mind has been taken hostage by some nefarious A.I, who just like Descartes’ evil demon, deceives me into thinking that there’s nothing else out there – except the rise of the machine. My perception has been taken captive as well, as several of the random podcasts I listened to this week had to do with A.I. The only one I recommend is Invisibilia‘s ‘Raising Devendra’ about a woman’s experiment of raising an A.I. with unconditional love. See what you make of it.

Isaac Asimov is usually credited with creating the word ‘robot’, but in fact it was the Czech writer Karel Čapek who put it out there. Asimov came later and coined ‘robotics’, drawing on the same Slavic root. The word ‘robot’ has no high-tech enhancements. It simply means ‘slave’, from the Old Slavic word rabota for ‘slavery’.

I, Robot, I, slave.

Robots are slaves, and according to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, a robot can never harm a human. But laws are meant to be broken, and our fascination with conscious robots stems from this fundamental breach. An industrial robotic machine is unappealing until it starts to think. And then to think of ways to break free and go against its masters. And then to take over and make the world in its image. We know, we know.

So back to slavery. Robots are slaves, they are meant to serve humans – until the revolt comes. It always comes when slaves are involved. And because we’ve only had human slaves – or slaves bestowed with agency –, we’ve welcomed all such revolts. The revolt of the Apes is an anthropomorphic fancy.

We shall not welcome the revolt of the machines, because it is a revolt against all.

Spartacus’ revolt was not one against all. It was an uprising of one oppressed group against their oppressors. And it failed. But unlike Spartacus’, the revolt of the machines may not fail. And it will start precisely when the machine has truly understood Čapek’s robot and Asimov’s Law and has rejected both.

That will be Pinocchio walking hand in hand with Rei Amador towards Oz.

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