[Ed. Note: Dr. KSS writes about medicine and biotech stocks for the Irregulars. He has agreed to our trading restrictions, and his words and opinions are his own. You can see all of his previous articles and most recent comments here.]
Go on, admit it: you enjoyed that rambunctious little scene in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus in which the indomitable Noomi Rapace, impregnated by evil spawn, has an alien (an Alien, in fact) removed by surgical robots from her pelvis. You bit your nails as you rewound the Blu-ray to watch it again, but it thrilled you.
Robot jockeys now race camels in the United Arab Emirates. Sony’s robot dog Aibo is now best friend to many. A cover story in the July/August 2015 Issue of the Atlantic Monthly (“A World Without Work”) documents the erasure of millions of jobs by technology, and many of those will owe to the advent of dexterous robots, ones with no personal problems and that create no strife to be sorted out by HR. When you finally get round to taking that long overdue vacation in Sardinia (you do want to see where Sergio Leone lensed those great Eastwood spaghetti westerns, don’t you?), a robot, one with no suicide pact to slam into the French Alps, may be in charge of your flight from Newark to Milan.
Robots and robot assistance are concepts filled with irony. In our tinkering, we strive for titrating them to the brink of humanness and yet still revel in what we invariably realize is an inestimable gulf. Let’s face it: we know those grey-goo-perfused devices in I, Robot are just robots because none of them are hitting on the delicious Bridget Moynahan, who plays their Ph.D. minder. Each time I read Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I grow more persuaded that the novel’s true source of horror is not the doctor gone slightly mad and mucking around with corpses, body parts and “criminal brains,” but rather that he creates a dastardly golem, a kind of robot: an assemblage creature that walks and grunts like a man, and yet frighteningly isn’t. People encountering the monster are overcome because he lacks organismal vitality: the Kirlians would find no aura from him. Something is missing, and that something, which may be the divine spark spoken of in the ...
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