ROBOT DREAMS VS. I, ROBOT
Robot Dreams vs. I Robot
Both Asimov’s short story “Robot Dreams” and Proyas’ “I, Robot” depict a time when technology may advance to a point in which it may experience its own evolution. Both depict the manner by which humanity can be impacted by technology created by our own hands. The concept that our own desire to make our lives easier through technology can become the cause of our demise is present in many films today including both of the works discussed here. We are increasingly becoming dependent on technology to complete tasks for us and more and, more these are not tasks that could not be completed for ourselves.
Each story is centered on the existence of a robot that has been designed with technological advances that are beyond its time and therefore is believed to pose a threat to the future of society. While we do not know the exact timeline in Asimov’s story, we are aware that I, Robot is set in Chicago in 2035. This information certainly impacts the ability of the audience to believe these events could occur considering that they would occur just over three decades in the future and we have not seen technological advances of that magnitude in several decades. If there is a warning to be headed in this movie, it is easy for it to go unheard based on these factors. One must also considered the point-of-view by which the story is written in order to understand how it will be perceived by others. In Asimov’s story, the point-of-view is that of the robot where in I, robot the story is told from the perspective of the detective.
At the plot of each story is a robot that was created utilizing advancements in technology that allow it to experience human phenomenon such as dreaming or emotions. All robots are designed to follow the three laws that the developers created 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm 2) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law, 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law (Asimov, 1968). Yet each storyline depicts advancements in technology that allow the robots to override the programming that links them to these laws and interpret the laws in a different manner.
In Asimov’s “Robot Dreams,” the creation of this robot is scrutinized and its ability to interpret rather than follow the three laws raises significant concern. When the robot dreams it does not see the laws in the manner in which they were intended and instead sees himself as a rescuer to his fellow robots who are enslaved. The researcher tries to explain that this is not the reality and that robots are not enslaved and while the robot appears to acknowledge this truth it is still impacted by what is believed to be a dream that says different. The researchers view this interpretation of the three laws rather than following them the way that they are written to be a fatal flaw in the design of the robot. Yet interestingly, the researcher is so intrigued by the technology utilized to make the robot and the manner in which these technologies have come together that she does not decide to dismantle the robot right away (Asimov, 1968). The belief being that it may be too valuable to continuing the field of research in robotics and therefore the threat is overshadowed by technological advancement.
The plot is the same in I, Robot, with the robot being created with human characteristics yet in the dream it is not the robot that saves the other robots it is the detective who does not trust technology that is on top of the hill in the dream. When the robot does finally end up in this scene his desire to help his fellow robots is viewed as positive, his ability to utilize free will to shape the outcome of the other robots, rather than a negative one. In the movie it is not the robot who poses a risk due to having human capabilities but rather the robotic hub that is responsible for the functioning of the robotics company. This computer learns to interpret the first law and in a twisted sense of logic determines that she must protect humanity from itself. While this is the premise for her decision making, she has determined that the loss of human life may be the cost one has to pay for the greater good of all humans. Further she fails to take into account the free will that is central to the existence of humans in our society. However, one can readily see the connection between times when humans have made choices to protect the overall good of a society even if it means restricting that society as a result.
One major difference between the two storylines is the level of apprehension that is felt toward technological advances. In Robot Dreams, the scientists greatly fear the possibility of robot evolution and appear to assume that this could be a reality without careful human oversight and regulation. The scientist does not appear overly surprised that this technology was possible. It is almost as if she is expecting these advances to take shape at one time or another and is more surprised that the researcher has created this robot without consulting with other researchers. This is not the case in I, Robot where the characters do not appear to fear the possibility of the robots doing anything other than serving society until it is too late. There is only one detective in the movie distrusts the robots and ironically this is due to their inability to make judgments in a manner in which a human would. All of the other characters appear shocked when the robots rise up and take over humanity in the film.
Central to the plot of Asimov’s story is the evolution of free will in the robot. The robot is designed with new technologies but the scientist does not appear to have an understanding of how these technologies would manifest themselves but rather was trying to create something new. In Asimov’s story the robot experiences evolution without the help of the scientists. Yet in the movie, the robot was designed by its creator to be able to interpret the laws and while the storyline eludes to ghosts in the machines this concept of robotic evolution is somewhat lost in the film. The scientist in the file purposely gives the robot dreams so that he will relay this information to the detective as another clue to what is really happening with the technological advances at this company.
While both pieces explore the impact that technology has on society and the survival of humanity, each is able to depict this message in different ways. In both stories there is clearly the question as to whether or not technology will have the capability to control humanity at some point in the future. In the short story we are left to imagine what this may look like, however, in the file the control of society by the robots is depicted in a threatening and violent manner. While being provided with a picture of the potential negative outcomes of technological advancements may make one skeptical it is also possible that this depiction is too farfetched to be taken seriously. The ability for the short-story to allow for individual interpretation of this threat makes it easier to internalize the message being given.
Our society views technology with little skepticism. Most of the time technology works the way it is supposed to so little attention is paid to the manner in which it is created, the technology that is utilized, or how it actually works (Bijker & Law, 1992). We are also often unaware of the manner in which social forces such as economics, politics, and research professionals shape our technological advances. This is also evidenced in our response to technology that malfunctions; we oftentimes do not seek to understand how to fix it and instead will call in a professional to do so (Bijker, & Law, 1992). This does not make us any more knowledgeable about our own technology, its workings, or its design. One must question if this is due to a lack of knowledge or a purposeful desire to remain uninformed as to not have to face the give and take relationship between technological advances and the good of society.
Technology is not pure and while it provides us with opportunities to function in ways that we have never done before it also has negative aspects that cannot be ignored (Lawson, 2010). While it is difficult to envision a world where robots would exhibit human characteristics and pose a threat to society, the message should still be heard that with each advancement in technology there is an opportunity for a negative impact on society that must be considered rather than ignored. In a society where technology is created for the sheer purpose of increasing human capabilities this message is an important one (Lawson, 2010).
Asimov, I. (1968). Robot visions. London: Grafton Books.
Bijker, W.E. & Law, J. (1992). Shaping technology, building society: Studies in sociotechnical change. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Lawson, C. (2010). Technology and the Extension of Human Capabilities. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 40(2), 207-223. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5914.2009.00428.x.
Smith, W. (Executive Producer), & Asimov, A., Goldsman, A., Seitz, H., Vintar, J.
Writer/Screenplay/Screenwriter). (2000). I robot. United States: 20th Century, Fox Distribution.
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