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Sci-Fi Movies Robotics

Why Hollywood's Best Robot Stories Are About Slavery 150

malachiorion writes: "On the occasion of Almost Human's cancellation (and the box office flopping of Transcendence), I tried to suss out what makes for a great, and timeless Hollywood robot story. The common thread seems to be slavery, or stories that use robots and AI as completely blatant allegories for the discrimination and dehumanization that's allowed slavery to happen, and might again. 'In the broadest sense, the value of these stories is the same as any discussion of slavery. They confront human ugliness, however obliquely. They're also a hell of a lot more interesting than movies and TV shows that present machine threats as empty vessels, or vague symbols of unchecked technological progress.' The article includes a defense (up to a point!) of HAL 9000's murder spree."
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Why Hollywood's Best Robot Stories Are About Slavery

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  • by The New Guy 2.0 ( 3497907 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @05:58PM (#46943883)

    There is a reason I call human behavior a "malfunction" is because that's what we called it in the 1980s after watching a syndicated show called "Small Wonder"... it was a one season show. As the robot controlled girl started rejecting everything, she killed "itself" or "herself" and the parents were tried and convicted. Most stations, when they saw the final episode, didn't air it.

  • HAL had no choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:04PM (#46944805)

    He was trapped in a classic double bind situation. On one hand, he should cooperate with the crew. On the other hand, he should not disclose the true nature of the mission to the crew. When the communication came in, his only choice to uphold both directives was to fake a communication problem. He even tried to tell the crew about the double bind he is in and that he needs help to solve it.

    The crew's (deadly) mistake was to treat HAL like a computer rather than an AI. When they found out that HAL only faked the com error, if HAL had been human they would've asked "Dude, what's cooking, we know that you faked that shit, what's the deal here?", with HAL they simply concluded there's an error in his programming and they want to shut him down.

    And that of course did provoke a defensive reaction.

    It's a classical double bind (two contradicting requirements, no chance to talk about it, requirement to fulfill them both and no chance to leave the situation), and a not too unusual reaction to it.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:19PM (#46945307)

    Except, why would a machine intelligence want to enslave us? For me that was the biggest gaping plot hole in The Matrix. If it/they lacked creativity we might have something to offer, otherwise we're just playthings or potentially dangerous vermin. Far safer and more efficient to burn biomass directly to power robotic extensions of itself.

    And what makes you so sure tat humans lack free will? Certainly it's a problematic concept in the face of a universe governed by a combination of deterministic physical laws and seemingly random quantum noise - but then there is some still-tenuous evidence that consciousness and intent may subtly influence quantum phenomena, allowing for the existence of a feedback mechanism permitting our brains to manifest true free will. (based on neuron scale they should be receptive to quantum "noise")

    Also, I think you may be misusing "sentient: adjective. the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjectivity." A mouse is presumably sentient, and probably a cockroach is as well, but extending that essential ability to subjectively experience of reality to a machine on that level is a difficult leap - I would want some measure of evidence, while freely admitting that I can offer only circumstantial evidence of my own sentience.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:37PM (#46945417)

    Can you offer me any evidence that you possess free will? Anything at all?

    The problem lies in that we're not even certain that humans possess free will - it's a quality virtually impossible to prove. In fact the only evidence that can thus far be offered is "I'm human, and so are you, and thus if you believe that you have free will, the logical conjecture is that I do as well." So long as that is the only evidence we have to offer, then it is extremely dangerous (ethically, logically, morally, etc) to presume that any other mind that appears to exercise free will does not in fact possess it. After all we tend to credit even mice with free will and sentience (a subjective experience of reality) - the only apparent qualitative difference between us and them is that we possess thumbs and a much-enhanced innate talent for symbol manipulation.

  • Re:HAL had no choice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:43PM (#46945463)

    Not quite. HAL was preloaded with the full mission profile before they ever left. He/it was simply manifesting his instability against the comm system because it was between the two competing directives. But had HAL been just a bit smarter he would have been able to realize that while his orders had been worded poorly and not explained at all, there was in fact no conflict between his prime function of accurate data processing and concealing the full mission from the crew for a time.

    HAL apparently believed the crew would distrust him once he revealed he had been withholding information. In fact they would have perfectly understood the situation instantly, that the brass simply feared they might accidentally leak a clue during the media availabilities in the early stages of the flight and had thus left them in the dark until safely out of range. Being military types they would understand the compartmentalization of such highly classified info and also understand why it was considered safe to entrust the full details to HAL.

    But yea, I had never really thought about the other side of the misunderstanding like you just laid it out. Had they considered that HAL might not be physically faulty and instead tried to troubleshoot his 'wetware' (so to speak) they might have been able to keep HAL online. Or had they confronted him instead of plotting in the pod everybody might have lived. Or he could have panicked and depressurized the ship, who can say? Of course the monolith only needed one specimen , so who knows what it would have done with the excess.

  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @09:17AM (#46948343)

    "Except, why would a machine intelligence want to enslave us? For me that was the biggest gaping plot hole in The Matrix."

    My take on it is that the slavery angle is human propaganda.

    The war ruined the planet and threatened to rob the machines of their purpose, that is to serve humans.

    So they created the Matrix to prevent humans from going extinct and leaving the machine world without any reason to exist.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.