In discussing films, there might be spoilers. Sorry!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Time has Come to Speak of Positronic Brains, Cabbages and Kings

By H.E. Curtis

I don’t think anything literary has captured the hearts and minds of the public more than movies of Romance and Science Fiction. In many ways it is almost prophetic the early Science Fiction Writers such as Asimov, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Brown, Vogt and others were writing of things that today we take for granted because they have become reality, almost second nature to us or at the very least within the grasp of reality. Who could have guessed such works as, Liar!, and I, Robot, would have spawned a whole study of robot psychology which we would later see the influences in movies such as Blade Runner,(Harrison Ford) and I,Robot (Will Smith).

The above two mentioned movies encapsulate the field of Robot Psychology very well. While Blade Runner doesn’t touch upon the three famed laws of robotics, it does touch upon the deeper nuances of Asimov’s and other works looking at the underlying fear many had of robots becoming more human, making the transition from slave labor into integrated members of society who hold positions like the detective R. Daneel, The Caves of Steel . Understandably we come to the point of facing the question of our place in the universe, and the responsibility of having a non human race living among us. Not a race of living matter, as we define it, but a race of circuit boards, electrical currents, sensors etc…. but with emotion and, dare we say it? A Soul. Are they alive and what does that really mean, and what are the repercussions of such awareness?

In her book, Frankenstein, Shelly worked with the reanimation of flesh and blood, but Robotics involves no re-animation but rather creation: whereas reanimation involves something which was once alive, and the process of reversing or cheating death. The Robotic vision involves the creation of life itself, in fact a redefinition of it. But once we create a life, what do we do with it, especially when it embodies the perfection many strive for, the immortality of a body which fails very slowly and a consciousness that lasts for centuries? In essence we create the gods and than let them loose upon the world, expecting them to serve us and fearing they will demand service of their makers.

Each of these films and books are ripe with philosophical query. Where does consciousness come from? How does one know what they know? If there is a soul what is the nature of it and how does it influence us, for good or for evil? Are we destined or free to choose? If there is an underlying, unseen word beyond what we see, how can we reach it and what is life like there, if there is any life at all? Is technology going to enslave us, or will we become a better race because of it? We are human beings, and manifest destiny has now extended beyond our realm but to carry that out we have to look internally at our own self and at our own society for good and ill. Perhaps the animosity toward the robot is they highlight the profundity and depravity of our world and having come new to it, managed to avoid some of our own pitfalls.

The question of course is how did the authors and filmmakers come to receive their vision, and at the time they did when magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction, and others were being born in garages and bedroom typewriters. What did they see than what we are missing today?


  1. Great post, and a fabulous topic. My sci-fi deals with engineered life forms of the biologic vairety, but the question remains the same: Does a life form assembled piece by piece, regardless of medium, have a soul?

    Built in conflict anyone?

  2. Great topic! I grew up on science fiction and all the possibilities of it were frequently discussed.

    It's interesting to see how many of the 'impossible ideas' have and have not come to fruition through the years.