ANDROIDS ALL AROUND US
attributes, and that to abandon them is somehow to abandon our humanity. Something in us, it seems, fears perfection, and artificial beings threaten us with an unwelcome perfection, expressed as rigid unfeeling precision.
There is another menace first conveyed nearly 200 years ago in Frankenstein, and now more compelling than ever: the fear that tech- nology will grow out of control and diminish humanity for all of us. That concern is hardly limited to artificial creatures. It appears in many arenas—the loss of privacy associated with new forms of sur- veillance and data manipulation; the depersonalization of human rela- tionships; the incidence of human-made ecological disaster; the growing gap between the world’s technological “haves” and “have- nots.” It is especially and deeply unsettling, however, to contemplate the literal displacement of humanity by beings made in the human image, only better.
Although Frankenstein is the most famous story touching on many of these matters, it is not the only one.The depth of our reactions is shown in a whole imaginative narrative of artificial beings—a millen- nia-old fantasy or “virtual” history, in which these creatures are the focus of a panoply of emotions, hopes, and concerns. In one thread of the virtual history, humans develop strong feelings for inanimate or artificial beings, as in the Greek myth of Pygmalion, who yearns for his statue of a beautiful woman to come alive.That thread also appears in E.T.A. Hoffman’s nineteenth-century story “The Sandman,” where a young man falls in love with a clockwork automaton, and in the classic 1982 science-fiction film Blade Runne , where a special agent dedicated to the destruction of androids falls in love with one of them. In another thread in the virtual history, artificial beings yearn to become human or accepted as human, for example the “monster” in Frankenstein, the puppet Pinocchio, Commander Data in Star rek, and the little boy android in the 2001 film A. I.:Artificial Intelligence.
In yet other stories, robots display intelligence and ethical stan- dards that make them trusted guides to a better future for humanity, as in Isaac Asimov’s book I, Robot, but in a contrary thread, other equally able robots and androids slaughter people, as in Karel Capek’s play