“I am not a gun”

Ben Bashford (this is him) and I have been talking about what happens when these connected objects that we are building get sick. When batteries start to fade, they will get ill, they will starve, they will struggle to breath. Is this a problem?

Today he posted the death scene from the Black Hole.

I cried.

As Ben said in his post on emoticomp:

“We could draw inspiration from things like Apple’s design of the sleep light on the Macbook Pro which is so obviously designed to pulsate at the same rate as its breathing would be (if it had lungs) whilst it’s asleep. It’s just enough that it gives the machine a feeling of sentience but what would happen if that speed was ever so slightly increased or decreased based on certain conditions? Would it give the impression that something is wrong? I reckon it might not immediately, but once you get to know the device and its personality you’d be used to its normal behaviour and then really notice when it starts behaving differently. Being a bit offish with you maybe. I’m pretty sure people already do this with computers when their operating system starts to get a bit sluggish or glitchy – I know I do – but maybe we could play with that a bit.”

The anthropologist Dr Kathleen Richardson studies the implications of ‘social robots’ and argues that it raises questions about what it means to be human. She also studies the trend of scientists to re-model robots as children, to overcome any fears the public has for a thinking ‘man machine’.

When machine start to die we need to ask about the ethics of exposing a child to a sociable robot whose technical limitations make it seem uninterested in the child.

The MIT ethnographer Sherry Turkle describes in her book Alone Together.

“Can a broken robot break a child?  We would not consider the ethics of having children play with a damaged copy of Microsoft Word or a torn Raggedy Ann doll. But sociable robots provoke enough emotion to make this ethical question feel very real.”

at what of the robot’s decisions. Does it scream for help, or go quietly?

The one scene that floors me every time is Iron Giant. The Iron Giant is a robot designed to Kill, but through a knock on the head, and a bit of UX reprogramming from Hogarth Hughes (a friendly kid or finds him and rescues him from eating a power station) becomes more “friendly”.  Near the end of the film, Iron Giant decides to make a the biggest sacrafice to save Hogarth and his family from a potential Nuclear Winter.  Seconds before Iron Giant knocks the nuclear missile out into space he is reminded of Hogarth’s words, that we can be who we want to be, not who we are programmed to be.
He decides to be Superman.

and then he dies.

There are others. Both Bash in Ridley Scott’s Alien and Batty in Bladerunner are more dramatic ‘human’ deaths.


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