We all know the inherent strengths of robots: They do not tire, they do not question and they do not hesitate to crush our babies with their powerful, uncaring metal claws. But we're also well aware of their weaknesses: They cannot feel, cannot emote, cannot create and, perhaps most tragically of all, they cannot love. That's how we're going to beat them, when the inevitable robot apocalypse descends upon us -- with our humanity. You just can't engineer a soul.
Except you totally can. Scientists have already gotten a running start at it with these six robots that are treading all over the formerly exclusive domain of mankind.
The military is leading the way in robot-human relationship-building, and that's not entirely surprising. The bond between soldiers runs deep, and it doesn't matter if the fellow soldier happens to be made of metal and plastic.
One colonel ordered a minefield-clearing robot (it was programmed to walk through the field, set off a mine, lose a limb, then drag itself onward until the next explosion) to cease its duties because he couldn't stand watching it anymore. He considered the treatment of this robot ... "inhumane." More than one soldier was brought to tears when their beloved battle 'bot comrade was destroyed by an IED. But the first place award for BRFFs goes to a group of soldiers who, after acquiring some much needed down time, took their robot fishing with them -- because they felt the robot had earned a day off, too.
Is that ... is that a beer in its claw?
In case you're thinking it was all a wry joke on the soldiers' part, and they don't really respect and revere their robot brothers-in-arms, think again: Sgt. Talon, a bomb disposal robot with the 737th Ordinance Company, has been awarded no less than three honorary Purple Hearts and a battlefield promotion to staff sergeant by the soldiers. It now holds a higher rank than the average soldier. If so inclined, it could give human beings orders that may put their lives at risk, and technically, they would have to obey.
"When I tell you to suck it, you will damn well suck it!"
Robots are hard-wired. A robot's actions are purely the sum of its programming. It is literally impossible for a robot to go against its code. A robot is, by its very essence, the direct and polar opposite of creative.
Or at least it used to be.
Robots are now not only expressing themselves in a variety of ways, but they're also doing it so well that their creative works are standing alongside those of professionals. Emily Howell (yes, the robots have people names now) was fed the works of every single classical composer in existence and told to analyze the music for patterns. She dutifully examined each piece with the cold, metallic and joyless disposition of a music history professor. Then, when she was finished, she composed her own music, presumably while one of the researchers worked the turntables with ruthless and scientific efficiency.
Here's David Cope, the not-crazy-at-all guy who created it, in his totally sane workspace.
Whether or not you think her results are any good is beside the point: The point is that we have programmed the ability to create art -- wholly original pieces, not remixes or covers -- into a machine.
And by adding this addendum, you're probably thinking we're going to say Emily's music is an awkward flailing mess of failure.
They're not. These are her jams:
Her compositions aren't just coherent, they're actually considered on the same level as the works of many professional composers ... to the extent that those same composers have publicly expressed worries that "Emily may one day overtake [them] in [their] field." By which we assume they meant to say they feared she would "overtake us in a field, where nobody might hear our screams."
The cruel, merciless domination of creativity isn't limited to music. While most art programs take a picture and filter it through pastels, pencils and paints, the Painting Fool has been taught how different painting styles and colors can stimulate moods and emotions. When the time finally came for the machine to create some original paintings of its own, one would assume it malfunctioned and printed out some photographs of circuit boards, followed by two pages of questions marks and one page left blank, save for the words "What is ... love?" printed in tiny text at the bottom. But it actually did this cityscape:
And this flower:
That's the full-size on the left; the close-up is on the right.
So OK, maybe the Fool isn't exactly on the level of Jackson Pollock. Hell, it's not even on the level of Kevin Pollak ... 's niece, Penny Pollak, who once gave a stirring Vagina Monologue at an open-mic night, but mostly just coasts off the meager family name.
But again, that's not the point: The point is that this program did not go the expected route and paint realistic landscapes or still lifes. It skipped past millennia of art history and leapfrogged right to the Modern Art phase. If it keeps up its artistic progression at this accelerated pace, it will revolutionize the art world in two months, become a tired parody of itself in three and burn out and succumb to a drug addiction in four. Six months from now it will be dead from auto-erotic asphyxiation, and all of its former critics will be writing tearful odes to The New Yorker saying that they don't know about everybody else, but they thought the Fool's later work was actually the best.
Swiss scientists conducted an experiment with robots where the machines were simply tasked with collecting discs that represented food. At the end, the individuals that collected the most "food" were allowed to "reproduce" via hot metal-on-metal bonin'. (OK, so "reproducing" just meant their instructions were mixed together and copied onto the next generation of robots, but our way sounds way more fun). Now, if you're a Swiss robot inexplicably programmed to feel hunger, you've got two options: As you go about looking for resources, you can either opt to hoard what you find (selfish behavior) or share with the rest of the group (altruistic behavior).
"Fuck the group -- must have food discs ...".
Faced with this same dilemma, nature mostly responds by inventing new and horrible ways to murder. But astonishingly, the robots learned to cooperate and share resources, thus ensuring a greater chance to procreate for all, despite reducing their own individual chances to reproduce. The primitive AI put the good of the whole above its programming, and by doing so, has shown machines to be capable of altruism -- arguably the most complex and rare trait found in any society.
Not too scary now, but wait until they learn to hunt.
Hell, we actually are human beings -- the creatures who defined the word "altruism" -- and come lunchtime, we'll step on the neck of an old lady if she's between us and the last burrito. These robots are practically saints in our book.