Robots in the News

For science fiction fans, there is plenty of good news. New Star Wars TV shows are in the works. The plural is correct – there is both a 3D Clone Wars featuring familiar characters, and a live-action series on which work has only just begun, but which will not focus on the Skywalkers or other main characters from the movies. Although I haven’t watched them yet, the “flashback” mini-episodes that are paving the way for the start of the new season of Battlestar Galactica have begun to appear on the Sci-Fi Channel’s web site. New Star Trek and X Files movies are also drawing closer.

For droids that were hoping to think, the news is bad, even though the prospects haven’t actually changed. A Yale University professor has, according to the subtitle of an article on the subject, argued that machines will never be conscious.

If you read the article, you will discover that he has in fact argued no such thing. He has asserted it, but the truth is that no one knows what the result may be if we are ever able to make an artificial brain which replicates the sheer number of neurons and connections between them found in human brains. The article thus may cause flashbacks to Beauregard and O’Leary’s book The Spiritual Brain which is based on similar assumptions, it would seem.

While some are presupposing impossibility, others are imagining what the possibilities may be. There is a new book out called Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships which I plan to read. I’ve actually done some writing recently on the topic of religion and artificial intelligence, and questions like these will need to be answered long before philosophers are able to define consciousness, much less tell us whether a machine is capable of it. People are already having online second wives, never mind affairs. Will sex outside of marriage with a robot be considered adultery? The first divorce lawyers to deal with a case of that sort will have their work cut out for them.

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