Monday, January 10, 2011

Robots & Writing

Goodness, time flies when you're in college! I haven't written for quite some time now. This past Saturday, I took an IELTs exam (International English Language Testing). Though I am a native English speaker, I attend an international university and require passing results from said exam to be exempt from English courses. Now in the school system here in Thailand, there are very few opportunities to write essays, most of the grade you receive is exam based (35% midterm, 45% final, the rest on quizzes and possibly small assignments). While doing the essay portion of my IELTs exam, I realized how much I missed writing. I pretty much wrote a satire, and I hope whoever it is who grades my paper enjoys reading it. The prompt was something along the lines of, "Robots can be important in the development of human society. Do you think they are a good or bad thing, and why?" I will do my best to recreate what I wrote, and I had quite a good sense of humor about it despite the fact that I was freezing in that exam room for a good three solid hours.

Robots are an interesting creation, and fantasy. There have been many recent films made about robots, such as Wall-E, iRobot and Transformers. Now in all of these films, the 'good' and 'evil' sides of robots come out. But first things first, if robots are not human and therefore have no emotion, how can they have morals defining what is 'good' and what is 'bad'?

As a society, humans seem to have become lazier. Obesity levels are sky-rocketing all over the world. Sure, this can be attributed partially to diet, but also to the fact that with all of our tools and technology, our lives are not physically grueling as our ancestors were (not in developed nations, anyway. I am well aware that life in many third world is a daily struggle for survival). The introduction of robots into society for the purpose of doing mundane, every day tasks would make humans even less active than we are now. I mean come on, we already have dishwashers, car washes, washing machines, automatic doors, etc. Isn't life easy enough as it is? If we had more time in our day to do other things because we weren't throwing clothes into the dryer, would we actually be more productive? Doubtful. We'd spend more time in front of the television, eating or playing video games, or sitting at our computers. Most likely being inactive.

Worst case scenario, think about this one for a minute. If a seventeen year old computer nerd can create a virus that disables millions of personal computers worldwide, what could Steve Jobs do? Robots run on programs, they do what they are told to do, with no thought (because they don't think) as to what is 'right' and 'wrong'. Like I said earlier, a machine can have no morals, no emotions. So maybe Steve Jobs has a secret army of iApple-bots hiding underneath his garage, just waiting for the apocalypse, or just the right moment to launch a military attack on Bill Gates. The robots may not turn on you, but someone can program them to do their bidding. Okay, this is all a bit far-fetched, but like I said: worst case scenario, like in the movies.

Au contraire, utilizing robots to do tasks deemed perilous or impossible for humans to do is absolutely logical. How many mining accidents have there been in 2010 resulting in the loss or suffering of human life? 3 major ones I can think of off the top of my head: the Chilean miners trapped underground for three months. Three months! The mining explosion in New Zealand, in November, which killed every single person in that mine. And don't forget the blast in West Virginia back in April. Robots were sent in to mend the exploded pipes in the Gulf of Mexico (what a disaster, thanks British Petroleum*). Funding for research and development should be high for robots with such uses. Same with robots for scientific purposes, such as exploring Mars. Humans can't just pop over to Mars and take a stroll, so we send robots. Totally justified.

Overall, robots are great to do work that is deemed dangerous for human beings. But the R&D for robots and technology for convenience (how the hell are the Jetsons in such good shape if they don't even walk across their living room?) is a frivolous waste of time and money. What do you think about having robots as part of your every day life?

*The IELTs exam is curated by the British Council, I hope they got my joke and weren't offended for taking a stab at BP. Hey, they deserve it, to say the least.

Last but not least, I can never bring myself to write without posting photos as well, because I am such a visual person. Photo one: It's me! On the balcony of my dorm room. Photo 2: the bracelet I was wearing. Photo 3: My obsession, Ferrero Rocher! Delicious.