By CJ Schumacher, Lucy Zheng, Stephanie Moon, and Robby Harper, VI Form
Post-Apocalyptic Literature Discussion Posts
Editor’s Note: This explanation is about “E-Portfolio and/or Discussion” posts in Ms. Hultin’s VI Form elective, The Dystopian Flood: Post-Apocalyptic Literature–“Posts are due every week or two weeks. Posts must be typed, relatively error-free, and published on your Google Sites E-portfolio or Canvas discussion page. Each post should be a minimum of 300 words. Occasionally, E-portfolio assignments will have more specific instructions. In these assignments, your answer should explore and analyze the material from class. E-portfolio posts are thoughtful, but informal responses that demonstrate your thinking on a topic.”
Robots are either created to serve humans or to emulate them. They are meant to either be companions or house maids. In “Robbie,” Robbie is created to serve, but he ends up proving that despite his lack of human characteristics; he is equally human in terms of human connection. After being thrown away by the Weston family, he risks his life to save Gloria, his only friend. Just because Robbie cannot talk does not mean he is unable to form human connections or have emotions. Ex Machina tells a different tale. Ava is the closest thing to artificial intelligence and is built to be the next evolution of the human race. However, her own genius is what keeps her from forming human connection. She is too smart to see forming an emotional connection as important. Ava manipulates Caleb into feeling as if he is forming a real connection with her. She gets him to tell her personal things about himself and shows him interest and care, which in turn gets Caleb to fall for the idea that he and Ava have a genuine connection. However, Ava abuses Caleb’s trust and uses him to help her escape and subsequently kill her creator. She leaves Caleb locked away, desperately picking up the broken pieces of his heart. In this story, Ava abuses the human need for connection for her own benefit.
In both Ex Machina and “Robbie,” there are preconceived human notions about how much of a real human connection robots can form. Both of these ideas are proved wrong, but there is still doubt as to whether something that is so similar to yet so different from humans can realistically form human connections. They both hint that the more sophisticated a robot becomes, the less likely it is for a human connection to be formed and desired.
Why do we have the crisis of robots? In the end, these humanoid machines turn out to be more of a mirror for ourselves as mankind. Ultimately, we are the people who chose to make tools in accordance to our image, give them a mind faster than ours, and even give them emotions like us. Are we merely upgrading and perfecting a tool? If so, do we consider the human design the best for working efficiently? Or are we simply satisfying our desires of creation, of dominance?
In “Robbie,” there is indeed no difference between man and robot as long as there is enough connection between them. Gloria treats Robbie as human, therefore he is a human in her eyes. His synthetic programming becomes real, and his affection because real. However, the people with no connection to Robbie ultimately decide for robots to be banned. We are, again, extremely subjective creatures. Whatever Robbie’s true nature may be, he is what we believe him to be. We are always looking through a human lens based completely on our experience with others humans.
The clip from Ex Machina that we watched featured the Turing test. Ava, the artificial intelligence, seems to be strangely eager toward the forming of a romantic relationship and learns from Caleb very fast. As she learns to become more human, the mimicking reaches a certain degree, causing the “authenticity” of those emotions and behavior to become unquestionably genuine. The mimicking becomes real for both the robot, who does not know otherwise, and the human, who sees the robot in a human way, and is uncontrollably prone to applying his own sentiments to a machine that appears human enough.
It seems that both of these works assume emotions to be the difference between man and machine. Probably because emotions seem irrational yet miraculous enough to us, since they are experiences of total subjectivity — we have no concrete grasp of them except the observation of electrical signals in the brain. But is this supposed difference an advantage? In many works, mankind triumph over robots because of human connections. But these things that impede with our judgement, make us impulsive, and hinder us with desires – do they actually positively distinguish us from robots? All that we may be certain is that emotions are a distinguished trait of ours – a human defect. And since we are human, we are capable of finding the abstract quality of “beauty” in these emotions… they are thus deeded as “good”.
“** SPOILERS FOR EX MACHINA
We humans have this idea that we are so drastically different and advanced from all of the other beings on our planet. Truthfully, we are more advanced than any other species on earth. However, we share many traits with other animals. Some animals live in groups, communicate, make shelter, and act many other ways as we also do. One piece that we find unique about human nature is our self-awareness. Unlike other species, we are able to talk and describe the way we feel about certain events. We know that we are feeling these emotions. This ability is what sets us apart from the living things around us.
In Ex Machina, Ava, the robot, mimics human facial expressions and emotions based off of data that her creator, Nathan, stole from all of the smartphone cameras and webcams in the world. She tries to mirror what other humans do and learn how to interact based off of what she sees other humans do. Caleb is there to participate in the Turing test. By asking how Ava feels about certain things, he is trying to figure out whether or not Ava possesses the self-awareness of her emotions that humans do. Almost all of the questions that he asks her are about her feelings towards certain things. In the end, we find out that she was just using Caleb to escape, but she showed emotion, similar to humans, in order to manipulate Caleb.
We also see references to emotion in “Robbie.” Robbie gets sad when he is scolded during hide and seek. He shows sadness and so does Gloria when Robbie has to leave. Gloria’s mother is concerned that she needs to have more human friends, and that the people of their neighborhood are nervous that Robbie could be dangerous. However, Gloria and her father seem to believe that he is innocent. Gloria thinks that he is innocent because he is her friend. However, her father thinks this because no robot can break the first law. The first law states that a robot can never harm a human. Robbie shows forms of human emotion and connection when he cowers from Gloria, but he also is described with clunky metal feet to remind the reader that he is just a robot.