Thursday, December 18, 2014

Margaret Atwood on Robots . . .

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist, has written on future dystopias, though not on robots . . . until now, in "Are Humans Necessary?" (Atwood, NYT, December 4, 2014). Interestingly, she seems not so harsh on the robots:
Every technology we develop is an extension of one of our own senses or capabilities. It has always been that way. The spear and the arrow extended the arm, the telescope extended the eye, and now the Kissinger kissing device extends the mouth. Every technology we've ever made has also altered the way we live. So how different will our lives be if the future we choose is the one with all these robots in it?

More to the point, how will we power that future? Every modern robotic form that exists, and every one still to come, depends on a supply of cheap energy. If the energy disappears, so will the robots. And, to a large degree, so will we, since the lifestyle we have built and come to depend on floats on a sea of electricity. Hephaestus' bronze giant was powered by the ichor of the divine gods; we can't use that, but we need to think up another energy source that's both widely available and won't end up killing us.

If we can't do that, the number of possible futures available to us will shrink dramatically to one. It won't be the Hurrah; it will be the Yikes. This will perhaps be followed - as in a Ray Bradbury story - by a chorus of battery-powered robotic voices that continues long after our own voices have fallen silent.
In her dystopian writing, Atwood appears to treasure that inhuman silence . . .

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