In the Future, There Will Be Robots

Technology will enslave us allIn the Future, There Will be Robots is a theatrical production mentioned on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s in-game radio station. The on-air dialogue proceeded thusly:

Emanuel: Hey, it’s Emanuel from Prawn Island. I love the show. Yeah, I want to talk about technology enslaving us. You know that play In the Future, There Will Be Robots? Well, that’s a true story; in the future, there will be robots. And I’m going to hack them all. I’ll make them say funny things. You know, I can move satellites around with my computer.

Gethsemanee: Computers are evil. The Luddites of ancient Briton knew this. That’s why they destroyed the computers that created things faster and more efficient and took their jobs.

Emanuel: Oh shut up! Computers aren’t evil. It’s the people that programmed the computers that are evil. That’s a pretty big difference. I’m talking to you through a computer right now. In fact, I am a computer.

Pretty reassuring, you will agree. But is there any real cause for concern?

In 2000, Bill Joy, co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, wrote an essay titled Why the future doesn’t need us in which he argued that Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, and Robotics (GNR) will be ultimately responsible for the extinction of mankind.

Now, Joy is, by all accounts, a Computer Science pioneer, most famous for his work in the development of operating systems, microprocessors, Internet protocols, and programming languages. Yet here he is, siding with Gethsemanee (above) and suggesting that computers are going to kill us all. In spite of his protests to the contrary, his position is that of an alarmist Neo-Luddite.

But Joy and his fellow paranoid digerati are not alone in their fears. There are many clever people out there who are kept up at night by thoughts of Skynet declaring nuclear war on humans, or renegade robots violating the Three Laws of Robotics. The Survivalism movement thrives on this stuff, and we have them to thank for nutcases such as the Unabomber, who went around posting mail bombs in the hope that terrorism and blackmail would allow him to save humanity from itself.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to find sci-fi doomsday scenarios more suited to the big screen than serious forums of debate. I have more pressing things to worry about right now, such as where to position my hands in salah and on which day eid occurs exactly.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we, as Muslims, should make a bigger effort to involve ourselves in these issues. We can’t afford to stand idly by while Western civilisation lays the ground for a range of potential apocalypses. Nor should we rely on non-Muslim ethicists and law-makers to work out our moral stances for us. We need to muscle in on the Bioethics debate and influence the direction of GNR technologies world-wide.

The amanah with which Allah entrusted us entails our vicegerency and guardianship of this Earth. We must resolve to find a way to step up to this responsibility before it is too late.

2 comments ↓

#1 Amir on 06.29.06 at 8:47 am

On the subject of robots and Islam, Dr Waleed Kadous (my co-convenor at AMCRAN) recently returned from the Robocup 2006 competition in Germany where his team came second. An excellent result, mash’Allah. You can read about their robot at http://rescue.web.cse.unsw.edu.au/

#2 Mohammed on 06.29.06 at 9:15 am

Masha’Allah, an outstanding achievement. Dr Kadous would be one of the few people qualified to pontificate, from a Muslim perspective, on the potential repercussions of advances in the fields of AI and robotics. I should like to hear his views on the subject before the robots kill us all.

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