Monday, July 9, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 151


Love, robotics and ethical dilemmas

Matthew E. Caster

This is not a movie review. OK, so it is, kind of. If you haven't seen the recent Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick collaboration A.I. Artificial
Intelligence, go see it right now. That's right -- drop what you're reading and see it immediately. Then come back and read what I'm about to say.

The movie takes place in a distant future in which robots are as plentiful as humans and can fulfill almost any human need. But there is one thing
robots cannot do: love.

As a result, a corporation called Cybertronics invents David (played by the astonishingly talented Haley Joel Osment), the first robot child actually
programmed to love unconditionally.

Throughout the movie, we learn that David will stop at nothing to gain the love of his "mother," but to no avail. She cannot love him because he's a
machine. A.I. details his quest to try to become a real boy so his mother will love him.

This is not a happy flick. Indeed, as I was walking out of the theater, I was astonished, mystified, horrified and perplexed. I even shed a few tears.
This is a terrifying vision of the future, one that I ask each of you to think about now.

Thomas Paine once said, "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." Of course he was talking about freedom, but I believe the same
argument can be applied to love.

How many of you have ever been in love, truly, madly and passionately? More important, how long did it take you to get there? I hope all of us are
aware of the tremendous effort required to demonstrate our love for another, whether it is a parent, spouse or friend.

Although we may not realize how we got there, it has taken years for us to acquire this knowledge. We are not born with a moral sense that orders us
to love our parents. They care for us, so we try to reciprocate, and in time we learn what actions are necessary to please them. No one is born
knowing exactly how to love or how to show that love.

A.I. changes all that. If its vision of the future ever becomes a reality, I'll probably choose to resign from the human race. Granted, a lot of work goes
into creating David, but what does he have to do in order to know how to love? Nothing. His owners turn him on and instantly he knows exactly what
love is.

But that is not the truly horrifying aspect of this film. Except for a brief moment of brilliance by an unnamed character at the beginning of the film, no
one ever stops to question the morality of creating a robot that loves.

David loves his mother unconditionally; that is the way he has been programmed. His mother, however, reluctantly learns to love him, only to realize
that she is incapable of loving him as an equal to her own son because he is not "real." This is what sparks David's journey to discover what it takes
to become a real boy.

The situation represents, in my eyes, the supreme level of human cruelty. We've very likely all been in a situation before where we've had our eyes
on a certain boy or girl and taken a crack at getting a date with him or her, only to be turned down.

This is nothing compared to what must have been cycling through David's fibers. He would lead his entire life shamelessly devoted to whatever
family adopted him, but could it ever truly love a machine back?

A person who could give nothing but love, and yet would receive nothing but contempt or indifference, would probably commit suicide in a matter of
days or weeks -- love is that essential an emotion to all of us.

I realize this is a fictional work, for thankfully (to my knowledge) there are no Davids on the market. I hope the situation detailed in the movie does
give you something to think about.

If the purpose of robots is to provide for the happiness of mankind, can we receive that happiness without shame if the robot literally feels unhappy?
Is a chunk of metal capable of feeling an emotion as powerful as love still nothing more than a chunk of metal? Or does it possess the same sacred
rights as mankind?

Caster, a junior chemical engineering major, 
would like to know your thoughts on the matter. He can be reached at

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