The Robot Exhibition made me cry - but I'm less worried about them taking us over!

Hilary Sutcliffe

I went to the new Robots exhibition at the Science Museum today and it made me cry. It wasn't in wonderment at our ingenuity as a species, (though there was a bit of that) or even the dawning of the inexorability of creepy looking robots like the one above which tipped me over.  What did it was seeing the excited and sometimes bored little kids buzzing around and pondering how the power and capability we’re developing will affect them in a world that also contains people like these 'bad hombres'.


I came out and plodded glumly past the Albert Hall, noticing that Chinese pianist Lang Lang was giving a recital, as was daft comedian Russell Howard and Circe du Soleil.  I carried on past the shops selling a mind-boggling variety of clothes, gadgets, cosmetics, jewellery, and art; negotiating the crowds of smart ladies off to lunch, students, homeless, business people on the phone, octogenarian hippies and even a couple of 2017 style punks.


It brought home, even in this little enclave of posh Kensington, our incredible diversity; the variety of humanity, our different abilities, styles, talents, desires, opinions, needs and wants.  Inventiveness and creativity isn't limited to boffins in labs in Universities trying to make mechanical people.  The same species can create beautiful music, art, film and hilarious stand-up comedy - you get the gist.  But we also do some really terrible things, all the time.


Reflecting on recent events across the world - yes, humans are terrible, marvellous, vicious and kind, selfish and unbelievably giving.  To use that great American phrase, what a piece of work we are.


So I concluded we will, of course, make loads of robots, some with more intelligence than others.  Some will have arms and legs that look & talk like us, though most will just be devices to help us do something better than we do on our own, or software that does things we don't even know it's doing.  Many of us will ignore them and refuse to let them into our lives, many may not have a choice.  Some will take jobs we don't want, freeing us to do more fulfilling things; others will take the jobs we do want, forcing us to change or into hardship.  We will love them and abuse them, (as we do each other), we will have sex with them, probably even marry them.  


But will they take us over?  Will we be consumed by robots and artificial intelligence - become ‘post-human’ as we merge our bodies with machines to help keep us alive or make us look different?  Nah, I don’t think so.  This mad, bad, fabulous species we are is going to remain resolutely human, even if some of us do have 3d printed, genetically-engineered hearts or artificial eyes or communicate our thoughts through a computer.   We are far too ballsy, contrary, different, difficult and downright arsy to be subsumed by bits of plastic and metal and a few electric circuits, however 'intelligent' the artificiality.


Rather bizarrely that thought, deluded or not, really cheered me up.   Nothing is inexorable (as we have seen recently to our shock!), everything is up for grabs and we can make the robots & AI in any way we want.  It doesn't have to be about recreating people's 15-year-old selves sci fi fantasies or trying to do it, just to see if we can.  


So let's get the pointy heads in the labs to work on what we really need and want to empower us, and help make more people’s lives better and more fulfilling.   Yes, some people will invent some nutty stuff, some bad stuff, some bizarre stuff, but worries about the nutters and the ego maniacs shouldn't stop us using technology for the good of us all.