Mark Kingwell: The Barbed Gift of Leisuretags: Chronicle of Higher Ed., robots, Mark Kingwell, University of Toronto, ethics
A magazine ad campaign running in my hometown quotes a youngster who wants to study computer science, he says, so he can "invent a robot that will make his bed for him." I admire the focus of this future genius. I, too, remember how the enforced daily reconstruction of my bed—an order destined only for destruction later that very day—somehow combined the worst aspects of futility, drudgery, and boredom that attended all household chores. By comparison, doing the dishes or raking the yard stood out as tasks that glimmered with teleological energy, activities that, if not exactly creative, at least smacked of purpose.
Disregarding for the moment whether an adult computer scientist will have the same attitude toward bed-making as his past, oppressed self, the dream of being freed from a chore, or any undesired task, by a constructed entity is of distinguished vintage. Robot-butlers or robot-maids—also robot-spouses and robot-lovers—have animated the pages of science fiction for more than a century. These visions extend the dream-logic of all technology, namely that it should make our lives easier and more fun. At the same time, the consequences of creating a robot working class have always had a dark side.
The basic problem is that the robot helper is also scary. Indeed, a primal fear of the constructed other reaches further back in literary and cultural memory than science fiction's heyday, encompassing the golem legend as much as Mary Shelley's modern Prometheus, Frankenstein, and his monster. At least since Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R.—the work that is believed to have introduced "robot" into English—the most common fear associated with the robotic worker has been political, namely that the mechanical or cloned proletariat, though once accepting of their untermenschlich status as labor-savers for us, enablers of our leisure, will revolt....
comments powered by Disqus
- Number of women leaders around the world has grown, but they’re still a small group
- Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world
- Harvard acquires Thoreau's notes on the death of Margaret Fuller
- It’s a national historic site, but hardly anybody visits the Idaho internment camp where thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated in WW II
- Big-time Hollywood director makes a movie about Stonewall
- Richard Rothstein says government policy created ghettos
- The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed
- High school senior credited with debunking book by Professor Richard Jensen
- Historians at loggerheads over the AP standards
- Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems