Love, robotics and ethical
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
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
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?