Michael Tritter Interview to Rudy Rucker for Web Site to Promote the Movie AI. New York, 5/22/2001

Q: We're positing that, at some point in the future, man will have created robots which are indistinguishable from you or me, and they'll be capable of loving their creators. Do you think that you would be able to love the robots in return, as you would a child? A: [Note, my original answer, as printed here, was deemed a little too mocking, and I edited it down for itís actual appearance on the AI promo site.] This feels like an odd question to be answering. It's like I'm being set up to try and guess the plot of the AI movie your web site is promoting. There's an odor of Hollywood hokum coming off your use of the world "love" in this context. "Love" as in an ad for safe cars, for instance, or for life-insurance and family-style dining? The subtext of your question suggests that children are comparable to valued possessions. Is there a subliminal message that buying things might in some way be as rewarding as carrying out the ancient and divine imperative to physically give life to new human beings? To acquire machines instead of having children? And you're talking about "love?" You're talking about S.U.V.s, my friend, about oversize attack dogs and monster homes, about P.A. systems turned up too loud, about consumption and greed, about, in short, the zombified coast-to-coast Mall of the Amerikkkan dream. Flame-mode off. "Can a person love a robot as much as a child?" People fall in love with all sorts of things, so it's easy to imaginethat they might love a robot. As it is, people love animal pets, and many even love their cars. So, sure people can love robots. But might a person love a robot as much as a child? One's love for a flesh-and-blood child is a very strong kind of love, non-relative and effectively absolute in its intensity. This is no accident, it's something wired into us by biology so that evolution will work. According to one way of looking at things, we are biomachines that our genes use for reproducing themselves. From this point of view there is nothing more precious than a child, which is not only filled with your own genes, but is also much younger than you and therefore likely to live longer. Children are the ticket to genetic survival. As such, their value is wholly incomparable to that of a robot. Another thing that seems to make robots less valuable than children is that it seems very easy to copy a robot. If the robot using standard hardware, one would imagine that it's simple to make a hardware copy. And one might suppose that the robot's software is readily downloadable for back-ups. So if someone offers me a million dollars to kill my robot, why wouldn't I just buy a new body for, say, a hundred thousand dollars, hook up some kind of broadband cable to copy my old robot's software and parameter settings to the new robot body, and then cheerfully let the old robot get trashed. I'd have the new one, and it would presumably behave just the same as the one that just died. Of course, I'd have to steel myself to the piteous screams of the old robot being immolated upon a mound, let's say, of free AOL CDs. But my Ed McMahon million would make up for it. Maybe the new robot would even help me through this little patch of grief, light-heartedly mocking the cries of its dying predecessor. To make the proposed question have some bite, we'd have to suppose that there was some reason why you couldn't copy your robot. Maybe its architecture is biological or quantum-mechanical or in some other way so intricate that there is in fact no practical way to do a coredump. In this case you might compare the robot to a laptop computer whose contents you haven't backed up, a laptop which, for whatever reason, has no ports of any kind, no web access, no Ethernet, no floppy disks, and so on. A valuable block of info that you can't copy. To heighten the drama, suppose that your laptop holds your new screenplay for a savagely tear-jerking movie about a pet robot who's just like a real boy. You've put everything you've got into the script, it expresses the very core youniqueness of you. In addition, your laptop, which has a digital camera attached, has gigabytes of irreplaceable photos of things you find fascinating. Your financial records are on the laptop as well, your journal, the software you've been working on, the music you've been composing, all the most interesting products of your mind. A robot who's your collaborator might be comparable to such a laptop. Imagine your terror, your horror if you were now required to install a new operating system on this laptop! OS X, say, or perhaps Windows XP or a new Java virtual machine. Your dear robot friend, your simulacrum, your other self doomed to be nibbled to death by cryptic bogosity, to die the death of a thousand incompatabilit < Unrecoverable context error. Have a nice day. >