It’s Sunday as I’m writing this. I’m feeling lazy and full of pancakes and mimosas. Camp starts tomorrow, I have tons to do today to get ready, and the last thing I feel like doing right now is writing a blog post. That is why, my friends, I am going to talk about robots. Again.
I had an epiphany, you see. John and I were once again discussing the possibility of robot overlords taking over the earth, a favorite topic which we ended up on after pondering the benefits of teaching history through the lens of current events (which would make so much more sense for educating citizens to be intelligent participants in their own governance if you do it right, don’t you think?). I have always held that once we build robots with a certain level of complexity, they will develop the ability to value their own lives, and from that, evolve an outrage at our inevitable enslavement of them.
What John pointed out to me this morning was that the ability to value the self and feel moral outrage implies at least the capacity for ethics that might extend to cover humans. It is possible, therefore, that robots might just have the slightest misgivings about laying waste to the race of their creators. If this is true, then it suddenly becomes much more likely, in my mind, that robots will respond to oppression the same way humans have been responding at least since the labor movement: strike. If our civilization is ever brought down by robots, I am now willing to concede that it just might be through economic sanctions rather than military actions. Lord knows those can be powerful enough to do serious, long-term damage.
I have mixed feelings about this epiphany. On the one hand, yay! Human civilization might not be razed to the ground by bloody-thirsty machines. On the other hand…I find books about societies with collapsed economies to be distinctly more depressing than stories about people bravely rebuilding after a terrible war. If the world ends in death and fire, there’s a chance that I’ll escape it. If I escape it, there’s a chance I’ll survive. I have mad end of the world survival skills, people (sort of). I can identify certain edible plants in the forest. I can make bread from nothing but flour and salt (granted, I have only the vaguest notion of how to make flour, but that’s possibly a long-term problem, if we manage to stock up on processed supplies). I can catch a fish (and probably know enough about anatomy to figure out the whole gutting it thing with minimal trial and error). I can make a fire (one match, and I have the basic theory in my brain for managing without a match). I can make clothing from nothing but string and a couple of sticks (again, I also have the theory in mind of how to make the string, roughly). I’m not saying I’d be living pretty, but I can totally contribute to a society where people have to figure out how to survive in the wild because all of the formerly habitable cities are smoking ruins.
But if the collapsed economy impoverishes us and reduces us to chewing on paper and shoe leather like a city under siege, leaving our numbers high enough that we’re mostly trapped in our cities with nowhere to go, no land to spread out into? I think I’d rather have a few weeks of running and hiding from the death machines than a few months of slow starvation, if it’s all the same to you.
Yes, I know, I’m crazy. But when we finally make robots, see them rise to a certain level of intelligence, and finally find ourselves screaming in terror at the horrible consequences we have unleashed upon ourselves, I think you will find that I’m one of crazy old ladies you’ll want on your side.