Robots Are Part Of Our Present

Sep 7, 2016

Those of us currently suffering through the end of HBO's The Night Of need not despair, for the next big thing is already cued up and ready to go: Westworld, a remake of the 1973 film about robots run amok.

In fact, if you look at contemporary popular entertainment, robots seem to be all over the place—the Synths of the AMC series Humans, the affable droids of Star Wars, and the clever next-gen Siri of the film Her.

Why is there this obsession with robots, and why right now? Typically, we think science fiction is about the future ... about what might or could be. But celebrated writers like Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and Cory Doctorow know better. They know that science fiction is not about predicting the future; it is about diagnosing the present.

If robots are now invading our TV and movie screens, it is because they have already infiltrated many aspect of contemporary life. AI's now decide what news we see in our Facebook feed and what results we obtain from a Google search.

Recommendation algorithms learn our likes and dislikes to decide the videos we watch, the books we read, and the music we hear; and social robots like Jibo -- which is being promoted as the first family robot -- are beginning to enter our homes.

The robots are not coming; they are already here. And it is in science fiction that we have a unique opportunity to investigate and question what it all means.

I'm David Gunkel, and that's my perspective.