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DIGITAL PEOPLE

Within that Japanese tradition, even a Type I robot might mean more than a piece of machinery does to non-Japanese people. Some observers take this further and say that Western religion is hostile to artificial beings, the creation of which is seen as impious or worse. In science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lems comment in Chapter 1, that an effort to make an artificial human is an attempt to become equal to God,Lem is referring to Judeo-Christian conceptions of God. Isaac Asimov has made the same point, asserting that what he calls the Frankenstein complexarises in societies where God is taken as the sole creator.

But according to Anne Foerst, a theologian who has studied the religious and ethical preconceptions we bring to artificial beings,West- ern religious attitudes are more varied than that. Jewish belief, she writes, is ambiguous about humanoids.On the one hand, to con- struct a being like the golem, as Rabbi Löw did in sixteenth-century Prague, is to praise God by exercising creativity and artisanship, which are part of Gods image. On the other hand, we face the danger that humans will turn from adoring God to adoring the golem makers. The Christian tradition in the West, adds Foerst, is less ambiguous because it is more concerned with hubris, the overstepping of human bounds that angered the ancient Greek gods and remains for Chris- tians sin ingrained in the social consciousness.

One action that could be considered hubristic within the West- ern tradition, the attempt to create beings in Gods imagethat is, as perfect androidsmight never happen, and not necessarily because it violates Christian sensibilities.The Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, author of The Buddha in the Robot, points out another reason not to attempt the construction of perfect androids. As robots like ASIMO and QRIO become more lifelike and human, the strength of our perceived connection to them rises, and feelings of threat or strange- ness diminish. However, as robots become nearly identical to humans, but in some subtle way not quite so, we feel a sense of wrongness that Mori calls the UncannyValley,which he advises roboticists to avoid as they design their beings.

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