Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Asimov Was Right


In one of his early books about a space detective, the world has many robots. This is part of the "I, Robot" series. In one story, he visits this planet that is filled with robots and the humans prefered the robots over the company of other humans because the robots responded exactly and only to themselves and this meant no complex interactions with a living thing with its own ideas and wants.

Japanese anime has made many stories about this. One series, "Hinotori", about the Phoenix that arises ever again, one of the stories is about a man who loves a robot. He becomes one in her memory when she is destroyed. When he first saw humans, as a robot, they looked like jerky monsters. Only with therapy could he tolerate humans.

As usual, Japan leads the way in technology innovations. Robots for the Elderly

By 2050, the over 65s in Japan are expected to make up a third of the population... and it's likely that technology will be relied upon to help look after them.

Interactive dolls are extremely popular with Japan's elderly. In Japan, the average woman lives to 85, seven years beyond the average man.

From the age of 22, Akino lived with her husband's parents and 11 other members of his family. But they have all died or moved away and she now lives in an enormous farmhouse on her own.

"When I come back from being out for the day and the house is dark, I feel alone and sad," says Akino.

"Conversation makes me happy. Sometimes I just feel like chatting."

To help combat the loneliness of longevity - and in true Japanese style - the country has turned to technology for guidance.

The result is not a pet dog or cat or bird but a robot that mirrors the person's needs exactly. Like the pet toys that acted like living things, demanding food and attention, once the rage of school children, now it is getting serious. Since women are increasingly reluctant to have babies or even marry, the number of children has declined hugely. In that crowded land, the farms are increasingly deserted as the young flee to the cities where all the excitement is. So the government, which last year was still trying to lure young women into motherhood, has decided to build a soft, warm, deadly bed and has begun the process of shutting down. For these robots don't bring life, they are a dream thing, they cut off people from humanity. I used to say, as a young girl, "You know you are alive if you feel pain" and this seems to be out of step with my fellow humans who seem to want to avoid pain, even the pain of loneliness.

Soon, you will see intellectual robots that will play chess or talk about Derrida or go to the opera with you, there will be robots who will do the kid's homework, if you have one, and wash the dishes and cuddle in bed...hey, why get married? No man or woman or child can compete with a robot. Robots shut up when you want them to shut up. Kids certainly don't do this. They don't argue before bedtime or drop socks all over the livingroom floor or forget your birthday. They are infallible and perfect.

This is why they are the harbinger of the death of the soul. If we don't struggle to live, we die, inside.

This desire for utter comfort destroys many people. Like the sultans in the palace or the Pope on his throne, the enswaddling luxury of careless living is a cancer. The worst thing that could happen to a child is for him or her to inherit a fortune. Time and again, history shows this is terrible. Which is why Congress is getting rid of the estate tax.

A fate worse than death....

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