If I Was A Robot Would I Still Love to Read?

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 8, 2019

One of the trendy themes of science fiction is the idea of mind uploading. Many people believe it will one day be possible to record the contents of our brain and put our self into a computer, artificial reality, robot, clone, or artificial being. Supposedly, that solves the pesky problem of dying and gives humans a shot at immortality. The odds of this working is about the same as dying and going to heaven, but it’s still a fun science fictional concept to contemplate.

I can think of many pluses to being a robot, especially now that I’m 67 and my body is wearing out into wimpiness. It would be wonderful to not worry about eating. Eating used to be a pleasure, now it’s a fickle roulette wheel of not know if I’m going to win or lose with each meal. And not having to pee or shit would be a top-selling advantage point to being a silicon being. And what a blessed relief it would be to never be tormented by horniness again.

Life would be simple, just make sure I always had electricity to charge up and spare parts for the components that break down. No worries about coronaries, cancers, viruses, fungus, bacteria, or degenerative diseases. Or flatulence.

I’d also expect to have superlative sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, along with a host of new senses. And I assume those senior moments would be gone forever.

But would I still love to do the things I love to do now – read books, watch television, and listen to music? What would reading be like if I was a robot? If I sucked down a book as fast as I can copy a file on my computer, I doubt reading would be much fun. For reading to be enchanting, I’d have to contemplate the words slowly. How would a robot perceive fiction? Are we even sure how humans experience the process of taking words from a book and putting them into our head?

Let’s say it takes me one minute to read a page of fiction. Somehow my mind is building a story while my eyes track the words. A novel would take hours to unfold. A robot could read a digital book in less than a second. Even for a robot brain is that enough time to enjoy the story?

Will robots have a sense of time different from ours? Dennis E. Taylor wrote a trilogy about the Bobiverse where Bob’s mind is downloaded into a computer. Taylor deals with the problem of robots perceiving time in it. He had some interesting ideas, but not conclusive ones.

In the WWW Trilogy, Robert J. Sawyer theorizes that consciousness needs a single focus for sentience. No multitasking self-awareness. I think that makes sense. If this is true, robot minds should have a sense of now. They say hummingbirds move so fast that humans appear like statues to them. Would humans appear like the slowest of sloths to robots? Does slow perception of reality allow us to turn fiction into virtual reality in our heads?

Could robots watch movies and listen to music in real time? Or would images of reality shown at 24fps feel like a series of photos spaced out over eons of robot time? Would the beat of a Bonnie Raitt’s “Give It Up or Let it Go” create a sense of music in a robot’s circuitry or just a series of periodic thuds?

It’s my guess that who we are, our personality, our sentient sense of reality, our soul, comes from our entire body, and not just data in our head. Just remember all the recent articles about how bacteria in our gut affects our state of being. Just remember how positive you feel about life when you have a hangover and are about to throw up.

I’ll never get to be a reading robot. That’s a shame. Wouldn’t it be great to read a thousand books a day? Maybe I could have finally read everything.

JWH

7 thoughts on “If I Was A Robot Would I Still Love to Read?”

  1. I grew up reading Neil R. Jones’s Professor Jameson SF series. Jameson escaped Earth in a capsule. Jameson’s body survived for 40,000,000 years in suspended animation, when it was found orbiting a dead planet Earth by a passing Zorome exploration ship. The Zoromes, or machine men as they sometimes called themselves, were cyborgs. The Zoromes discovered that Jameson’s body had been so well preserved that they were able to repair his brain, incorporate it into a Zorome machine body and restart it. Jameson joined the Zoromes for a series of adventures that first were published in pulp magazines, later reprinted by ACE Books, and now available in cool Armchair Fiction volumes.

    So, I am no stranger to humans transitioning to robots or cyborgs or AIs. Death is such a waste. We’re on the verge of technologies that will give us some choices to extend our lives…but there will be a price.

    1. I remember the Professor Jameson series. I have two of the collections. And Professor Jameson had his brain transferred to a machine. That might be more possible than downloading/uploading.

  2. If we are ever able build humanoid robots with actual conscious AI, or if the fantasy of brain transfer became reality — why assume that we would utilize in the fastest processing speeds available to the hardware? At least for those processes involved with conscious thought? Pretty trivial to set a slower clock speed.

      1. Yes. Perhaps you don’t want your AI-assistant-with-Scarlett Johansson’s-voice to be figuratively tapping her foot for a hundred subjective years while waiting on you to finish a sentence. One way to make robots or AI more “human” might be to deliberately limit their capabilities.

      2. But will robots want that? If they are self-aware sentient beings will they want to limit themselves? Maybe we will create them and they will abandon us. I figure outer space is perfect for robots. I see intelligent machines exploring the final frontier and not us.

      3. I don’t know what robots might want. Would we allow them to choose freely or would we insist on some built-in Laws of Robotics, aka robotic instincts?

        I do know that I myself wouldn’t mind having the ability to put myself into a “slow mode” when I’m talking with my sister. It isn’t that she’s stupid, but it takes an eternity for her to get to the point and move the conversation along and my thoughts race ahead while I’m waiting on her responses. Maybe robots would also appreciate having such an ability.

        Then too, would a non-organic intelligence with a longer physical lifespan than ours even feel the same impatience regarding “wasting time” that we short lived humans do? Perhaps they wouldn’t find it necessary to leave us behind.

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