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Robot? A debate about what constitutes being "alive"


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#1
Vindekarr

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I was just today at the local library looking for something new to read, and after finding absolutely nothing as usualy happens went down to the Book Bank and got a chance to look through an old translated Asimov.

This really got me thinking about what constitutes what it means to be alive. Some AI now, if designed for the purpose of interactivity, is almost frighteningly human. But I was also reading an article recently a freind sent me about a new type of robotic technology. This is right now only a theory, we dont know if this research will pay off, or if it will even be practical, let alone common place.

The theory is mostly about materials. Up until now most people, myself for one, saw future robots as VERY "mechanical" looking. Just take the Droids in starwars. Usualy they're all hard metallic angles, and while some have more of a humanoid shape, they're usualy about as human looking a crash test dummy. Now, not ALL robots in science fiction are clusters of rods and prisms containing large metal parts like processors and hydraulics. Replicators in StarGate, which could very dubiously be defined as robots, appeared as being utterly 100% human in appearance, at times hiding as humans for decades or centuries, being made up of uncountable numbers of nanomachines, cell sized robots that clump to form "organic like" functional parts.

What I was reading was that a new type of nanofibre some thinktanks and universities are looking at which is essentialy synthetic muscle. Our bodies move when our mind sends an electrical jolt down a biological nerve cable, to the mucles, which are clusters of biological fibre, which then respond to the electrical jolt by clenching and contacting. Thus moving the chosen body part. Functionaly identical to these new concept electroreactive nanofibres. If you could scale down the wiring and logistical cabling down to the size of human veins and nerves, you would end up with something alarming similar to a human being.

It would have a brain, in the form of a computer, which has a similarity to our own brain's function, which would move its body with electrical impulses sent along nerves of fibre optic cable, to move muscles of carbon fibre. Depending on how self aware that theoretical robot would be, that could really see thee existance of something within a century so akin to a machine-man that I really dont know what to call it.

#2
brokenergy

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What I would be saying will get this thread locked and me baned, so I can't really comment on that.

Edit: It would have to think and behave like us in order to be considered "alive"

#3
Vindekarr

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Well we really need to constitute what is a ___.

Its easy with cyborgs. A cyborg is a being with metallic or composite, or any non organic part fused to their living flesh. This can be in the form of brain computer hybreds, mechanised prosthetics, mechanical replacement organs, or full deliberate conversions of limbs or other body parts to cybernetic parts, for the intent for enhancing physical prowess.

Its less easy with this theoretic device I mentioned. It would be a sort of Simulacrum. In that it would have "muscles" "sinews" "organs' a "heart" and a "brain" all entirely made of metal, fibre and plastics, a true "(wo)man/machine"

And what about "simpler" more functional machinery. Like robotic worker arms? and dronefighers like nEUROn? Drones and combat robots get smarter and more deviously cunning by the week, but they dont have free "will" and they dont have a personality or sense of self. Their existance is to hunt and kill, we, or atleast I, cant empathise with such a machine, because its existance is function, nothing else.

And the term robot is a Slavic word for slave, or drudge, a coerced manual labourer. This fits devices like SWORDS nEUROn and Black Knight, but it doesnt seem to fit some sort of highly advanced synthetic life form, hence this debate.

#4
TheCalliton

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well, in order for something to be alive it has to fit these requirements

1. eats and produces waste (also consumes fluids)
2. repoduces through a-sexual or sexual acts
3. dies

virus fufill two of these things, but not all three
fire and rust eat and die, but dont reproduce

so in order for something to be qualified as living it must eat stuff, poop or pee or regurgitate (like an owl) know how to get some, and commit suicide

#5
Sinophile

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Out of curiosity, has the OP seen Ghost in the Shell? That particular series explores most of the questions that you pose. Also, have you read anything about Alan Turing, or his eponymous Turing Test? Now, I am assuming that by "alive", you mean alive in an academic sense, rather than a biological one. IMHO, for something to be alive, at least in the context I think you are using the word, it would need to be self-aware.

well, in order for something to be alive it has to fit these requirements

1. eats and produces waste (also consumes fluids)
2. repoduces through a-sexual or sexual acts
3. dies


I take it you didn't get an A in biology.You forgot react to stimuli(I.E. a plant moving toward the sun, a cat chasing a mouse), as well as have a genetic code.

And the term robot is a Slavic word for slave, or drudge, a coerced manual labourer. This fits devices like SWORDS nEUROn and Black Knight, but it doesnt seem to fit some sort of highly advanced synthetic life form, hence this debate.

I wish to disagree with this point. Any highly synthetic life-form would cost billions of dollars in both R&D and production(at least in the near future). Anything that costs billions of dollars would most likely be created to serve a specific purpose, not simply for the sake of creating a sentient being, and would most likely not have free will. The only exception to this would be perhaps something meant to serve an emotional need, rather than a practical one, such as a child or a pet, or even a lover.

#6
TheCalliton

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Out of curiosity, has the OP seen Ghost in the Shell? That particular series explores most of the questions that you pose. Also, have you read anything about Alan Turing, or his eponymous Turing Test? Now, I am assuming that by "alive", you mean alive in an academic sense, rather than a biological one. IMHO, for something to be alive, at least in the context I think you are using the word, it would need to be self-aware.

well, in order for something to be alive it has to fit these requirements

1. eats and produces waste (also consumes fluids)
2. repoduces through a-sexual or sexual acts
3. dies


I take it you didn't get an A in biology.You forgot react to stimuli(I.E. a plant moving toward the sun, a cat chasing a mouse), as well as have a genetic code.

And the term robot is a Slavic word for slave, or drudge, a coerced manual labourer. This fits devices like SWORDS nEUROn and Black Knight, but it doesnt seem to fit some sort of highly advanced synthetic life form, hence this debate.

I wish to disagree with this point. Any highly synthetic life-form would cost billions of dollars in both R&D and production(at least in the near future). Anything that costs billions of dollars would most likely be created to serve a specific purpose, not simply for the sake of creating a sentient being, and would most likely not have free will. The only exception to this would be perhaps something meant to serve an emotional need, rather than a practical one, such as a child or a pet, or even a lover.

i knew i was forgetting something
and biology was two years ago, too long for me

#7
Vindekarr

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Not everything acedemicaly described as a living organism has a genetic code-some have RNA, some have nothing at all. And not everything alive can react to stimulus.

The real point of this is to discuss what "alive" means in the first place=with an eye towards machines. Aye, that theoretic fibromuscular synthetic being IS atleats decades away, though the supporting technology isnt as outlandish as you'd think.

#8
Maxwell the Fool

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At the risk of steering this argument off track (and if you think I am then just say so, I can edit this up =D):

I'm undecided on this issue, and think that it raises very interesting questions. The first thing that popped into my mind as a viable argument was: "They're man-made, and therefore not alive." But then I thought.... What if we created life from nothing? Things that fully constitute being animals. I don't know.. Even just a tribble type creature. Is that alive? (counter arguing myself...).

#9
Vindekarr

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Its certainly worthy of debate.

We've already made artificial DNA. Both "organic" DNA made in laboratory, and a computer program that functions like DNA.

Within my lifetime we'll have something for machines almost identicle to muscle, and probably computers of power to match a human mind.

#10
evilneko

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It sounds like you're more interested in what constitutes sentience (or intelligence, consciousness, the capacity for abstract and higher thought) rather than merely life, which of course is a far more complex topic than life, since life is defined by those four characteristics already posted. ;)

As well, citation needed. Please provide an example of a life form with no genetic material.




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