Bridging the Gap Between Humans and Computers by Heather Kelly, CNN

I just came across the above article on CNN’s mobile site, and think it’s fascinating. It covers all kinds of scientific advancements in the works.  It seems we’re headed to a brave new world that will lie in wait across a continent or just down the street.

According to people in the know, in the not so distant future we’ll enjoy self-driving cars…or be afraid of them. I must admit I like the idea of a car that takes over in stop and go traffic, so I could read or dive into Twitter to kill the time. I’m not yet convinced I’d be comfortable sitting back to relax, while my car navigated a dangerous mountain switchback or raced along at breakneck speed. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather trust my not too shabby driving skills or just plain old human instinct for the dangerous stuff we all find ourselves tooling obliviously into on occasion.

Then there’s the potential for extremely life-like robots. I’ve been trying to decide how far I’d want that to go ever since I started reading, watching, and now writing science fiction. This article says there’s potential for robots so much like us that we might form relationships with them. This has long been the territory of Isaac Asimov, whose robots wreak consternation and fear, yet also acquire love among their humans.

Recently my own science fiction endeavors have focused on the creation of androids all but indistinguishable from human beings and the questions that arise about what makes humanity  human. Is it emotion, empathy, self-awareness, something more? Is it even definable?

I find this train of thought endlessly fascinating, but I must admit that once real life artificial humans arrive in our lives I am not at all certain how I’ll feel. I certainly don’t know how society as a whole will react. For every Data there is the potential for ruthless counterpart Lore. Friend or foe? Friend turned foe? The permutations are endless. For every good Terminator there’s Robert Patrick, metal melty machine man, arms and legs pumping like pistons as he chases his prey to the nonend of his endurance and the end of their frail human stamina. Some scenarios end as dystopian nightmare, instead of glorious future Utopian dream.

In one of my favorite TV series, Space: Above and Beyond, AIs were a formiddable human-like foe.When faced with the question of whether they must be treated in the same manner as the organic people they so resemble, our hero calls a spade a spade and treats them as machines. I fear that this question of just what rights and how much respect would be owed to artificial people almost indistinguishable from the beings after whom they are patterned would be a devisive one.

As much as my brain thrills to the possibility of seeing real life Alvins or Datas or Sharons come to be possible in my lifetime, it also quails a little at the prospect of the kind of ethical dilemmas such technological leaps will usher in. Can humanity rise above such negative and fearful instincts that would bear the potential to turn what might become a bright shining new future into a dystopian horror show with no end credits for centuries?

I choose to believe we can. Not without hellacious growing pains. Not without attitude and perspective adjustments on a global scale. But it’s possible. Mankind has risen above itself on occasion. When the day comes (and that possibility is becoming more real and more urgent than I would have thought a decade ago) that sees us walking this world side by side with people who are of us yet not us, I actually think the stories, movies, and TV shows we love so much will help to remind us of the better path.

Someday, when the impossible becomes reality, I know I would certainly choose the Jedi over the Toasters…the Federation over Sky Net. Every time. Wouldn’t you?