Alien Newsletter #18: We, Robot
In which our alien surveys the frantic deployment of replacement humans across the globe, and considers the odd fate of a robot planet
Network Note: As the current decade progresses towards irreversible moments of reckoning for an overcrowded, beleaguered planet, the movement towards synthetic ambulatory lifeforms has also speeded up. Cliched Neo-luddite condemnations rub up against techno-utopian paeans to embrace our new robot overlords, with others even wondering if these arguments accurately track what’s good, bad or even possible regarding the eventual development of these technologies. Apparently, our alien non-overlord, communicating once again after a longer than expected pause, has quite a bit of experience with the robotic tradition in other civilizations it has encountered, and shares some of its insights as it runs through its assessment of the latest technological developments for its home planet. In short, it would appear that we’re still a long ways off before the worst or best case scenarios, and time will only tell if we’ll achieve them in any timetable survivable by most non-Biblical humans.
As the Greatest Apes crawl on their bellies through yet another virus-infested year, one of the few points of relative agreement amongst all of their tribes is that if they can avoid spending too much physical time amongst each other, they will. This has placed even more urgency on the rapid development and deployment of technologies that are referred to as robotics. Once the subject of regressive fictional speculation in the 20th century, these inventions are employed in any number of settings where the toil of Greatest Apes once exclusively reigned: manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, and even industries such as food service, fashion and hospitality. Whereas the adoption of this technology was grudgingly slow before this decade, the dearth of GAs willing to throw themselves into jobs that will inevitably expose them to COVID has made them even more resolute in their commitments to meet the Great Resignation with the Great Replacement (and it should be noted that I do not refer to the paranoid notions espoused by certain not-so-great apes that other tribes of greatest apes may outgreat them, a theory that I find quite, um, grating. This refers to the replacement of GAs with robots, which upsets a much larger subset of them.)
It should be noted that the field of robotics is vast, and the disembodied robotic arms, carts and self-driving automobiles contemplated by GA leaders are just one segment of this field. Another field are the humanoids — creatures like the feminine robot/Saudi Arabian citizen Sophia and the recently constructed Ameca. For now, it appears as if their main function is to serve as platforms for well-positioned media figures to posture, either fueling Great-Replacement fears or bizarre discussions of a land called the “uncanny valley” by GA commentators. I have not been able to find such a valley on any map, which leads me to believe its location is a closely guarded secret that roils the GAs to no end.
(The one exception to this are the RealDoll automated sex surrogates marketed to particularly lonely Greatest Apes. Their name notwithstanding, such robots do not need to correspond to any notion of “reality” other than the wish fulfillments of their purchasers.)
In keeping with the ongoing neurosis plaguing the Greatest Ape elites, current robot applications focus on their ability to replace the need of GAs in spaces where their aggregation may lead to infection. For instance, one case in North Hemisphere Plate 2 concerns a GA child with a disease in his air passageways that attends his learning rituals through the assistance of a robotized avatar that can watch the lessons and respond to his mentor. They have also been implemented widely in the towering monoliths of packaged goods called warehouses. However, their uses are highly circumscribed, largely because such robots lack the ability to perform even the most basic selection and problem-solving techniques. Take, for instance, the mega-stuff seller Amazon, run by Botnode 9, which has taken to naming their robots after childhood fantasy figures plucked from the well-loved thoroughfare Sesame Street, such as Ernie and Scooter. One of them has to be walled off from its GA co-workers, since it might end up picking them up and packing them in boxes instead.
The creative, sacred and historical record of the Greatest Apes is replete with warnings against making such robots in the first place. Their creation can lead, according to the GA’s supernatural belief systems, to idolatry and perhaps even the destruction of Greatest Apes themselves. The very person who introduced the word “robot” to the GAs, the NHP2 playwright Karel Capek, delved into such issues in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots. In it, a company whose founders develop a means for creating robots out of artificially developed biological matter creates robots for a ravenous GA society seeking to replace itself in all matter of endeavor. (in this manner, Capek’s robots resemble the “xenobots” recently created by biologists from African clawed frog stem cells that even have the ability to reproduce). The company’s manager, Mr. Domin, predicts a future within 10 years of the play’s first act where GAs, freed of their toil and busywork, will attend to the greater task of evolving past their apehood, and into something far more potent:
Man shall be free and supreme; he shall have no other aim, no other labor, no other care than to perfect himself. He shall serve neither matter nor man. He will not be a machine and a device for production. He will be Lord of creation.
Ten years later, it is a far different story.
For as panicky newspapers report to the company from abroad, countries use robots to subdue their populations and wage war against each other. The birthrates of humans shrivel up to zero, because there is no more need for GAs; the robots do everything, after all. And a special subset of robots, now programmed with a self-awareness urged upon the company by a liberal-minded activist who arrives at the company in the first act as part of the Humanity League, have led their kind in a rebellion against their GA overlords. They eventually overtake the factory where they are made, but lack the ability to create more of themselves or to extend their 20-year lifespan. However, the play introduces a robot couple that exhibit heretofore unexhibited qualities of love, altruism and self-sacrifice for each other. The last surviving GA on earth, kept alive by the robots in hopes of regaining the lost ability to create more robots, witnesses this couple and acknowledges their potential to repopulate the earth as a new fusion creation of monkey and robot.
It is quite possible that the Greatest Apes, in pursuing this project, are busy digging their own graves with a Great Replacement of their own doing — Capek certainly thought so. But I am reminded more of the silver dwarf planet Mozrezgohn, the infamous robot planet. Its entities pursued a monomaniacal quest to replace every living thing on their planet with an automated version of itself. You may remember its fate: similar to the play, the number of biological entities needed to maintain activity on the planet dropped significantly, but the need for at least a few of them did not disintegrate altogether. However, in its transformation, the planet became utterly inhospitable to any sort of biological life. This planet then began to make threatening overtures to other planets, demanding they send “workers” to tend to its needs or else. Thankfully, before it could engage in what would have been a bloody and perhaps genocidal war upon its neighbors, the planet fell into disrepair, and to this day, it sits in its orbit rusting away and lifeless.
So it appears to me that while the GAs may not always occupy the earth assuming the typical corporeal form they currently do, it is doubtful the robots could survive for long either without their creators. As this century plods on and throws even more existential threats against the Greatest Apes, they will eventually need to merge with their creations, which may help them persevere in a world with less water, less food and less predictable climate and weather patterns. Whether GAs or their technolgies break down a la Mozrezgohn before they get there, however, is an open question.
Addendum: Apparently, this communication just so happens to be in synch with Wordle 215, for reasons even our civilization has yet to determine:
Wordle 215 2/6
The GAs get an extra decade of service out of its recently launched James Webb Telescope.
A swing and a miss… once again.
The GAs amuse themselves by blowing bubbles in space