Humans or robots?

Marvin courtesy of Wikipedia

I found this great article recently, which I thought I’d share with you. It discusses the future of space exploration, and whether it will be carried out via robotic probes (like Curiosity currently prodding at Mars), or by humans.

The next giant leap: humans or robots?

Opinion seems to be falling more in the Robot camp than the Human.

There are a few reasons for this: it is easier and cheaper to get a robot to other planets, and when they get there, they have capabilities than no human does. They don’t need to be kept warm, breathing, or fed while they are performing their mission, and perhaps most importantly from the point of view of complexity and cost, we can leave them up there. No-one is going to mind too much if they never come home. Spare a thought for the Voyager missions – just over thirty five years on, they are up to 11 billion miles away from Earth, on the edge of the known solar system, and still heading away into the darkness.

On the other hand, scientists in favour of humans point out that a person can do more in a minute than a robot probe can do in a whole day, and with a lot less instruction. Think of the frustration the Russians must have had when on their mission to Venus, the Venera 13 probe which was to sample the soil came down exactly on the spot where the lens cap from their camera had landed. You’d hope that a human astronaut would have the ability and sense to move the probe!
Humans obviously also have abilities when it comes to maintenance, both of themselves and of other equipment, which a robot would struggle with. Best of all, they are more open to all their senses, not just the ones they are programmed to be aware of.

One (perhaps minor) facet of this argument, it seems to me, is that if in the future we do go down the trail of fully robotic missions, quite a lot of science fiction is going to look pretty silly. So many stories are based around the experiences of people on long space journeys, traveling to and settling other worlds. This perspective, it has to be said, is probably a good deal more interesting than reading about the adventures of robots (Marvin the Paranoid Android being a clear exception!)

I wonder if it is possible to write a genuinely interesting story where the protagonist is a robot, programmed to carry out a specific mission from Earth? Any suggestions? :)

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7 thoughts on “Humans or robots?

  1. seems like robotic advantages are too much to overcome, especially in relation to shielding the human body from radiation.

    My guess would be human psyche translated into a robot(s) or a base ship with scientists who launch probes with limited intelligence which becomes self aware. or perhaps using a robot human interaction to define the soul.

    Or how about a genetically enhanced group of people destined to explore space, and how the rest of humanity embraces/fears them.

    reminds me a bit of the old old sci fi classic “Silent Running” with Bruce Dern, and Herbie the robot.

    I often think of what would make an organism / robot self aware, and the likeliest event is the need to heal/attack/procreate …. likely something with military purposes would have that need, determine friend from foe, heal/self repair… transfer acquired knowledge to friends/progeny

  2. Wall-E!

    Very little dialogue and a great story. Then again, it was an animated movie. :P

    I would think that a story involving a robot going on missions would need some sort of artificial intelligence. It could be a story about how it learns and grows as it carries out the mission, becomes more human like the T-1000 in Terminator 2.

    Or maybe it could be like 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal and sabotage our efforts at intergalactic expansion.

    I’m not sure; I’ve never been as much into sci-fi as fantasy. I have a deep respect for sci-fi, however, because it’s usually based on or anticipates real science.

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