While I admit to worrying about the dark side of robotics, like the loss of jobs for the worker, I rarely imagine a world populated by Terminators bent on destroying mankind. In fact, as writer Charles Taylor points out, robots are likely to improve many aspects of our lives. (“Robots: When machines kill,” by Charles Taylor, The Week, July 17, 2015, pg. 18.) Already, they have reduced industrial accidents, helped make soldiers safer in war zones and assisted in delicate medical operations.
In the future, they may drive the elderly and infirm to their destinations, providing them with greater mobility. Intelligent machines are also taking us into outer space and the depths of the sea, places no man has gone before and no man will likely ever go, given the hostility of these environments. One day, robots may cook for us, clean for us and do the laundry, tedious chores that will give people more leisure time. Perhaps they might even become our companions. So why do we humans harbor anxieties about our mechanical offspring? Could it be that we fear they will reflect too much of ourselves? After all, if there is a dark side to robotics, we humans will have put it there.
Consider the case of the woman in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For want of something better to do, she called the local police to report an attempted rape in her home. The police came at once, found tables and chairs overturned and a bottle of vodka in the bedroom. The scene looked like one where a crime had been committed. The police listened sympathetically to the victim’s description of the incident and bagged evidence, which included the woman’s Fitbit.
When the investigating officers returned to the station and downloaded the electronic device, they discovered that at the time of the so-called assault, the victim was walking around her apartment, showing no signs of stress. Her device proved that no violence had occurred. For her misconduct, she was charged with three misdemeanors, one for triggering a manhunt. So who was the villain in this case? Not technology. Fitbit solved the crime.