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Continued: Robots are finally fitting into the swing of things

  • Article by: THE ECONOMIST
  • Last update: March 28, 2014 - 6:49 PM

A Japanese robot resembling a baby seal, which responds amiably to stroking and can distinguish voices, seems to help elderly patients with dementia.

The more visible robots are, the better they can help humanity discuss questions like those first posed in fiction. Is it necessary that wars always be fought by people who can feel pity and offer clemency, and yet who can also be cruel beyond all tactical requirements? Does it matter if the last kindnesses a person feels come from a machine? What dignifies human endeavor if the labor of most humans becomes surplus to requirements?

People, companies and governments find it hard to discuss the ultimate goals of technological change in the abstract. The great insight of Asimov et al. was that it is easier to ask such questions when the technology is personified: when you can look it in the face.

Like spacefarers gazing back at the home planet, robots can serve not just as workers and partners, but as purveyors of new perspectives — not least when the people looking at them see the robots looking back, as they one day will, with something approaching understanding.

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