Robots - the new culture?
'What happens if or when robots become so developed that they realise we have become inferior to them?'
Sarah Levin | 5 March 2016

Robots are on the move. In this age of science and information, robots are moving out of sci­fi films and into our everyday lives. They already feature in factories and they already have conversations with us, from Apple’s Siri to Microsoft’s Cortana, and they play a role in many other areas of our lives. In the future, perhaps they will take on even more responsibility in the home, looking after the young and old, operating in hospitals, driving cars, flying planes and even venturing into space. Already they can mow your lawn, hoover your floor and pick your number plate out of busy traffic on a motorway. 

  Robots can be programmed to do almost anything and to appear uncannily human, leaving people wondering whether some day they will be able to do anything and everything that we humans can do (and much, much more!) The question is, however, whether robots can ever replace the great authors, poets, playwrights, artists and musicians of mankind? The creative genius is not born of logic but artistic talent that cannot be programmed. A robot may be programmed to type the entire works of Shakespeare, but the imagination behind those works is something that cannot be artificially re­created. A robot is unable to deliver lines with the intonation of Laurence Olivier or Judy Dench, leaving us spellbound; nor play the piano like Elton John; or the guitar like John Williams. Robots do not have original ideas or the human drive to push frontiers, to experiment and to explore.  

  Or do they? Perhaps the robots of the future will be superhuman in every way. Like Dracula, the creation of a Gothic author, robots will never die and will create their own culture. Robots could be united by a common language, instead of being divided by mutual incomprehension of some 7,000 languages. Language is a defining feature of humans, yet linguistic diversity is a genuine problem for global communication. Robots, if all programmed in a common language and based on compatible hardware, should have little trouble communicating. But if this is so then they will never be able to enjoy the rich nuances of language that feature in the great classic literature written by us 'mere' humans. 

  The most troubling question of all is: what happens if or when robots become so developed that they realise we, who created them, have become inferior to them? Will we have an iRobot situation on our hands? Hopefully the idea of a world run by robots, without culture as we know it, is just that: an idea. But we can never be certain. After all, George Orwell predicted Big Brother, and we know all too well that his prediction was correct. 

Image used under a creative commons licence: 

James Routledge 2016