First International Symposium on
30th - 31st January 2004, Villa Nobel, Sanremo, Italy

Robots: Myth and Reality

Bruce Sterling
Science Fiction Author, Boston, Ma, USA

The first "robots" were human stage actors in costume, for Karel Capek's satirical drama, "Rossum's Universal Robots."
The myth of robotics has always involved dressing up human beings, with all their wants, need, conflicts, and aspirations, in a mechanical guise.

Mechanical cogwheels and watchsprings have little to do with human biology. Even Artificial Intelligence has failed to create any entities that can interact with human beings on a Turing Test basis. Machinery, chips and software are too distant from human cognition to be able to mimic it well.

Recently, however, neural processing studies are beginning to reveal the physical and chemical substrate of how humans behave humanly. We can now envision "robots" which are not metaphors for humans, but bio-engineered devices that use neural processing techniques borrowed directly from the human brain's own workings.

If human cognition becomes an industrial process, what are the moral implications?

Draft 18th Jan '04