Week 4_Robots are not humans by Cheng-Kuang Liu

I was actually quite grossed out by all the graphic images presented in the lectures: an artist uses her own face as the canvas to create art through plastic surgery that “distorted” her face, human beings were tied down and experimented upon as if they were machines, and so on. Some of those sci-fi films that depicted the grim future of mankind both shocked me and got me thinking. What eventually came to me was not anything grotesque or graphic but something quite kind and dear to the heart—the movie “Bicentennial Man.” It is a movie by Robin Williams and it is a warm, family type film. I don’t remember all the details too clearly, but it basically describes a servant robot, played by Robin Williams, who was in contact with humanity for an extended period of time and eventually adopted the human ways, including human compassion, love, and wisdom. He eventually became human enough to fall in love with a human female. But when he pleads to be married, the government will not allow it because he is not a human being. As a robot, he does not age, get sick, or feel any pain. So he set out to “modify” himself step by step to become more and more human. He constructed a device that was equivalent to the central nervous system, so that he could feel pain. The ultimate step of his transformation was to allow blood to circulate in his body. Gradually, he turned into a mortal being who was consumed by various weaknesses that accompanies age. He eventually died in bed with his lover. The moment he expired, the government passed the act that allowed him to be married to his lover.

Though I was quite young when I saw the film, I was very touched by it. Now in retrospect, I realize that this film has very much to do with what we talk about in class. There seems to be a craze among all the people for robots—mechanical beings the bear characteristics of man, yet not touched by human weaknesses, such as sickness, aging, and emotions. Based on this idea many movies, cartoons, and comics were produced, portraying these strong, eternal beings. Yet “Bicentennial Man” does the exact opposite—a robot pursues human qualities, even though these qualities are seemingly “weaknesses.” This is beautiful. Our natural tendency is to look away from our weaknesses, yet these are the exact traits that make us human. Whatever how strong, capable, or “smart” robots are, they are not human beings simply because robots do not possess these weaknesses. The idealized robots in movies may be combinations of “perfect human beings” and “technological miracles,” but it is precisely the imperfections and the non-uniformity that make us human. According to this view, weakness is an indispensable feature to be human. Therefore, in a sense, these weaknesses are to be embraced as something dear and near to us. Perhaps this is the sentiment shared by these artists who create art concerning human sicknesses and weaknesses. But perhaps the sentiments of these artists are exponentially more amplified than what I can perceive. Therefore even though their works seem grotesque and distasteful, they present candidly an essential aspect of humanity. It is indeed an underrepresented aspect that most people shun away from, but these artists faithfully reminds us of this aspect of us humans, an aspect that is an absolutely indispensable element that constitutes us human.

My line of thought here is not in line with the reading, but I would like to acknowledge Hippocrates’ oath as something quite noble. Nobility is also a major attribute of humanity. Doctors, as represented by Hippocrates’, are good models of human beings. Average people shun away from sicknesses. Doctors devote themselves to study sicknesses in order to eradicate them. Artists described in this article also study sicknesses, but in order to present them in an amplified way, in order to make the average people aware.

One Response to “Week 4_Robots are not humans by Cheng-Kuang Liu”

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