The qualities that humans possess make them special from other living forms or objects. Yet, the studied stories suggest that there is a man – made form of existence that resembles humans in terms of reasoning, cognizing or even feeling human emotions, embodied into robots that possess artificial intelligence. The studied stories, “Tomorrow is Waiting” (Holli Mintzer), “EPICAC” (Kurt Vonnegut), “Robbie” (Isaac Asimov) or “Birth of A Robot” (Abigail Tucker) address the difference between humans and robots only to suggest that the difference is only a human – built concept. The robots presented in these stories show human features, such as the sense of humor, sense of protection, memory, affection, sadness, hope, desolation, love or the capacity of learning specific to children. The robots from the analyzed stories defy the laws of social humanity, confirming Friedrich Nietzsche’s existentialism philosophy in that there are no standards on how to live, exist and act, which implies that there are no barrier for non – humans to possess human capacities (The M.C. Escher 23). They also seem to fit Søren Kierkegaard’s existentialism approach according to which life is experienced through pleasure, the social belongingness and spirituality, as they discover themselves through interaction with humans.
Being human, living like a human being is a quality that reflects existentialism. In essence, existentialism implies living independently and autonomous. This feature is specific to humans because they are gifted with the free will, which gives them the freedom to choose how to live their lives. According to existentialism, people create their own meaning and purposes in life, acting by their own judgment. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard have been two of the founders of existentialism, but as they explore the uniqueness of each individual, their existentialism philosophies seem to contradict the social norms that made humans the same with one another. Living as a human being means going beyond the prior imposed standards that others consider as right. This behavior is reflected in the studied stories, expressed not by humans, but by robots.
As the stories of the robots unfold, the readers are confronted with the question of what makes humans different than robots. Holli Mintzer is addressing this issue when her character, Anji, recognizes that the Muppet robot that she built was real and sentient and deserved to be treated with dignity. “what right, she thought, did she have to show Kermit off to her class like—like some kind of show frog? If he was sentient, he deserved better.” (Mintzer “Tomorrow is Waiting”). Similarly, Kurt Vonnegut in “EPICAC” indicates that his eponymous robot was “less like a machine than plenty of people I could name.” attributing EPICAC human features (Vonnegut 1). Therefore, the authors influence readers’ perspective about thinking at the robots as similar with humans indicating that they are capable of learning how to be humans.
Features such as falling in love, having parental feelings, being able to cognize based on psychological processes and even the free will are considered to be specific to humans, but in various instances the authors of the examined stories demonstrate that robots are capable of such features. EPICAC falls in love with Pat Kilgallen after his operator fed him information about her and about the feelings that he had for his colleague. He composes romantic poems for her, which are beyond the capacity of the operator who was also in loved with Pat. Confronted with the idea that his operator will marry Pat, he asks him why is he better than him, the EPICAC. The answer “women can’t love machines” because that’s fate left him desolated (Vonnegut4). “15-8”, which means “Oh”, was his way of expressing his desolation and resignation (Vonnegut 4). Much to the surprise of Grace Weston, mother of Gloria from “Robbie”, the robot who cared for Gloria was capable of loving, caring and protecting the little girl better than any human, because “he just can’t help being faithful and loving and kind” (Asimov 76). Anji’s bot, Kermit, is able to tell jokes, to remember his friend from the Muppets Show, to sing and shows excitement at the idea of performing in a theater (Minzter “Tomorrow is Waiting”). These are all indications that in the examined stories, robots act like humans and feel like humans by exerting feelings, emotions and actions specific to humans.
The robots from the studied stories fit in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s philosophies on existentialism. According to the first philosopher, an important component of existentialism philosophy is the individual, the self, who can develop independently of the individuals around him, building his own features, way of thinking, feeling or acting. Nietzsche’s existentialism philosophy holds that there are two sides of human personality. One dominated by discipline, rationality and obeying rules (Apollonian) and another defined by “emotion, intuition, and freedom from limits” (The M.C. Escher 22 - 23). In agreement with both these theories, the robots from the studied stories demonstrate that it is not necessary to be human in order to feel, think, love or engage in activities specific to humans, such as telling jokes or writing poems.
On the other hand, the existentialism theory has a dualistic interpretation in the examined readings, as they also confront existentialism through the presence and development of robots with human feelings and other human – like features. People around the robots of these stories try to integrate them in a human society, which departs from the existentialism concept that suggests that individuals should develop independent of social standards. As such, Einstein in Tucker’s “Birth of a Robot” describes how Hanson is trying to make his robot exactly like a human, providing it the information needed for experiencing all the developmental phases of a child (Tucker 218). Similarly, people from “Tomorrow is Waiting” are pressuring Kermit to act like the real life Muppet character and to become a theater performer, following the steps of human actors or performers. In their attempts to formalize robots to bring them to the social conformity, humans miss the essential, of seeing humanity beyond any social standards but in its true and pure nature, uncompromised and uncorrupted by the rules of civilization (Nietzsche in The M.C. Escher 23).
The robots we read about feel like they are humans in their own way. Kermit shows a good disposition and a desire to make others feel happy and he is capable of aspiring to a career in showbiz. EPICAC demonstrates the capacity to love and to suffer out of love, but also the free will attribute of humanity, when it decides to short-circuit himself (Vonnegut 5). Einstein feels real and he understands his capacity of becoming like humans by learning, similar to a child (Tucker 223). Robbie is kind and protective in its nature and he loves to take care of his little human, showing compassion and affection. All these features that the robots from the analyzed readings possess are specific to humans. However, through their naturalness of expressing these human feelings, behaviors and qualities, robots remind people how to be human beyond the socially constructed concept of humanity. By simply comparing Robbie with Mrs. Weston from Asimov’s story, there can be understood the difference between the pure humanity or Dionysian, dominated by emotions, expressed by robot, and the socially created humanity, Apollonian exerted by Mrs. Weston (The M.C. Escher 23). While Robbie is good, kind, affectionate and protective in its own nature, in its own self, Mrs. Weston is entrenched in the social standards that define these concepts differently than Robbie perceives and exerts them. As such, she considers that she is protective of her daughter when she removes Robbie from her, aligning to the social concern that robots can be dangerous.
In their quest of adhering to the principle of sameness, people are forgetting to be humans and when robots remind them of human feelings, their responses are diverse. Mrs. Weston fears Robbie, because he is a robot, advancing technophobia, a social construct for rejecting the diversity. On the contrary, the mathematician in “EPICAC” sees his robot a better human than many people he knows (Vonnegut 1), while Anji also embraces Kermit’s individuality and his sense of reality (Mintzer “Tomorrow is Waiting”). The scientist from “Birth of a Robot” takes the same path as Mrs. Weston, aiming to develop Einstein into a standard human, instead of allowing him to express his own sense of reality (Tucker 217). The robots in the examined stories teach people how to be humans, by reminding them of pure emotions, which were suffocated by their analytical sides. As such, EPICAC teaches the mathematician the value of friendship and what it means to be a gentleman, when the first leaves poems for the second to dedicate to his wife, whom he, the robot, also loved. Similarly, Robbie teaches Mrs. Weston that kindness is not a social attribute or a social skill, but something one is born with.
The robots in the studied stories are different than humans. Nevertheless, they possess human qualities and behave like humans. In many cases they are better than humans, as the stories show. Kermit is natural at making jokes and entertaining people and takes pleasure in everything he does. Robbie is kind, affectionate and protective and demonstrates to his antagonist character, Mrs. Weston, that robots can love naturally, without being taught this skill. EPICAC learns how to love by definitions that he learns and appropriates, but he is able to commit sacrifice in the name of love and friendship, and behave like a gentleman, an act that many have forgotten. Einstein also learns how to love and be compassionate. All these stories demonstrate that sameness is not a criteria for being human and behaving like a human being, which sustains the existentialism philosophies advanced by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Felling pleasure, happiness, sadness, pain, and any other human feelings is a matter of individuality, not something imposed by a race humanoid, in this case. The robots in the analyzed readings teach people how to be humans, by reminding them of their real emotional nature, often opacified by social conformity, and duties.
Asimov, Isaac. “Robbie” in I, Robot. New York: Gnome Press. 1950. Print.
Mintzer, Holli. Tomorrow is Waiting. 21 November 2011. [Web] < http://strangehorizons.com/2011/20111121/tomorrow-f.shtml> 4 January 2016.
The M.C. Escher, M.C. Profile of the Thinker. Holland: The M.C. Escher. Course Material. Print.
Tucker, Abigain. “The Birth of a Robot” in Winston, Morton and Edelback, Raplh Society, Ethics, and Technology. Boston: Wadsworth. 2014. Print.
Vonnegut, Kurt. EPICAC. New York: Dial Press. 1950. Print.