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Philosophy of Mind: Part 7, What Is It about Robots?

By Frank Simons

What is so fascinating about robots? Real robots have an extensive history, from the golden age of automata in the 1600s and 1700s to their impressive use in various fields today. This lecture will explore our enduring fascination with robots by tracing their history in both art and reality. It will focus, in particular, on contemporary robots—emphasizing both the promise they offer and the threat they pose. The prospect of human-like machines raises ethical issues of how we should treat our machines.

Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 7, “What Is It about Robots?”
Thu, Jul 20, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejon Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted
Info: 415 156 1950

The term robot was introduced in Karel Capek’s play RUR, first performed in 1921. In Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, a female robot tries to destroy both people and machines. Technology gone wrong is a continuing theme in such shows as Westworld, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Humans, the Terminator series, Blade Runner, and Star Wars.

The history of real robots is equally fascinating. Descartes’ philosophy that animals are merely automata inspired a burst of automata building over several centuries, all the way up to Disney’s theme park attractions Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean. All of these lacked genuine autonomy.

Contemporary robots come in a variety of forms and have a variety of purposes. The first were industrial, of which more than a million are in use. Robots are a major part of space programs, like Spirit and Opportunity, which have far outlasted their expected 90-day life on Mars. Surgery is increasingly being done by robots, with microbots in development to swim through the bloodstream. Humanoid robots are being developed in Japan to serve as nurses. Pet robots seem to offer therapeutic benefits.

The future of robotics will bring a range of ethical dilemmas. Will they take over? Should we limit the development of more intelligent robots? Hans Moravec sees a glorious future in which our descendants will be our “mind children”; robots will replace us as the next stage in evolution. Will robots be sentient? Will they be due rights as citizens? Should we develop robots for personal slaves?

Ray Kurzweil has predicted our machines will surpass us in intelligence by the year 2040. Is that plausible? If so, what will the consequences be? Should we worry?

The professor, Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.



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