THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
human race.The messages of cautionary tales like R.U.R. and “With Folded Hands”—robots might kill us with violence, or with kind- ness—are balanced by the optimistic view in I, Robot: that artificial beings offer salvation for humanity.The nasty robot, Maria, is coun- tered by the dancing cyborg Deirdre, evil Terminators turn into good ones by a mere change in programming, and RoboCop is a reliable defender of the public welfare.
There are also consequences to individuals, including the poi- gnant efforts of Deirdre and RoboCop to remain human in robotic clothing, and the guilt or moral uneasiness felt by some of those who create the beings. Susan Calvin has no qualms about making robots, but Frankenstein has sharp regrets, as does Malkah in He, She and It: “What Avram and I did was deeply wrong. Robots are fine and useful, machine intelligence carrying out specific tasks, but an artificial per- son created as a tool is a painful contradiction.”
The guilt felt by those who make the artificial beings seems to correlate with the degree of freedom they give their creatures.This is a significant outcome of the virtual history, which indicates that to produce truly sophisticated beings, we must let them evolve. Humans start with a genetic inheritance, which we modify as we grow, chang- ing internally in response to external influences to become more ca- pable and more human.Artificial beings have a built-in inheritance as well,which depends on their structure and programming.Those prop- erties might be enough, but might also represent an unnecessary de- mand on us, their creators, to make beings that are complete from the moment of construction. Perhaps artificial beings can become truly successful only if they grow beyond their initial machine inheritance.
Not all the creatures in the virtual history, however, are given that opportunity or are able to do so. Frankenstein’s Being has no parents from whom to learn, and Asimov’s robots seem forever locked into the Three Laws. In contrast,Yod changes through a rich and continu- ing interaction with its “parents”Avram and Malkah, and with Shira. Such growth is more than an interesting premise for stories. It pro- vides one answer to the basic conundrum of artificial beings: how to design diffuse, extralogical, and ill-defined human qualities like