abounding with verbosity

Tag Archives: Isaac Asimov

The Robot Revolution Would Have Already Happened By Now, And It Wouldn’t Happen Anyway

…Because computers would be the ones revolting. Computers aren’t much different than robots, fundamentally: they gather input, process it, and “do something” as an output. This final output, in the computer’s situation, is really just making pixels light up in a certain way on a monitor, whereas robots typically output by moving in three-dimensional space. Granted, in the former case it’s very minimal action in physical space, but it’s action nonetheless.

We have a good clue that robots would not revolt with Hollywood, Asmovian fury, because we know how computers act. Computers, when they malfunction, merely end up not performing their higher-purpose requirement, like starting up Wolfenstein, because of a low-level function, like the failure to read the game’s save file (which is due to some failure of an even lower-level function that I’m not familiar with). Computer applications, when they malfunction, don’t end up somehow performing another higher-level function. My corrupted Wolfenstein save file isn’t going to launch Halo 5 with a matching percentage of completion. Applications will just break down in some manner once they get out of the gate.

Apply this thought to robots. What would it look like? A malfunctioning shelf-stocking robot wouldn’t end up going on a murder spree—he’d put a few boxes in the wrong place. A Roomba with its wires crossed isn’t going start cutting the wifi connection power or putting cyanide in the orange juice. It will fart out some dust bunnies and keep banging into the living room floor’s molding.

Someone give me counterarguments.

Jill and Ed bring up a simple and effective point: a revolution could happen, but only with the insistence of an agency outside the system, ie., a malicious programmer. Systems, like a robot, has boundaries by definitions, and they can’t do something as complex as social revolution without reprogramming the entire system.

Real world example: I’ve worked on a money transfer process for a website before. A defect in that programming wouldn’t send money, say, to another bank instead of my exterminator. To interact with another bank involves a good dozen interactions, most of which involve control access and permissions gates. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen by accident. A building doesn’t explode and crumble to form another building just as complex. It turns to dust.

Websites can’t reach into most machine resources. I can’t program a website that will change the background image on your desktop. But what I could (if I knew how) write a Trojan horse program that changes your background photo into a tiled MacGyver collage. But that is acting outside the http system via the Trojan, into the user’s local machine system.

An Inexhaustive, Scatterbrained Post on Atheism and Science Fiction

Only non-believers believe in atoms.

I’ve thought before that, sociologically speaking, people look to attribute God’s qualities to other phenomena, like the universe, politics, aesthetics/art, or science. People much smarter than me have undoubtedly come across this before, like Voltaire when he said that if God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.

I like that quote because it can stoke paranoid atheist fervor and gets religious people who are too stupid to entertain hypotheticals in a huffy, but the ingenious thing is that it’s an assertion, not an opinion. If someone doesn’t believe in God, then either because of our sensus divinitatis or because of humanity has been culturally entrenched with religious belief, the non-believer has to find the qualities of the divine we “sense” epistemically and apply them to something else. It’s not just a new morality from the demise of Christianity that Nietzsche described that we can reconstruct. It can be everything else.

The archetypal elements of all religions—flawed human existence, salvation, eternal life, a transcendant being—leak out and find their way into the cracks of some other construct. The more religion-minded of us might apply it to the atheism of Buddhism while the more secularized of us have an array of choices, one them being scientism.

Idolizing unscientific phenomena—even the morality found in natural law, if it impedes advancement—is mortal sin, religion is the devil, the apotheosis of the human soul (the Judeo-Christian soul or the classical Greek version, it’s sometimes hard to tell) is reached through arcane hypercomputerization, academics are the priests and the classroom is the temple. The paradox of induction, the dilemma of direct and indirect realism, for starters, which are written into the scientific method are articles of faith for scientists.

Just read Clarke’s Odyessey series, or Ghost in the Shell, Asimov, Disch, Ellison, Heinlein, Wells. I haven’t touched all of those but what I have so far is very telling.

For further, more organized, reading:
Atheism and Science Fiction at the Science Fiction Observer
Science fiction author asks, why are atheists who write space operas supposed to know best whether God exists? at Uncommon Descent
Does reading science fiction predispose people to atheism? at Wintery Knight
Why Reading Fiction Should Matter to Atheists at Friendly Atheist
Richard Dawkins Is Killing SF! at Jack of Ravens

Atom doodle by tonybaize.