We’re watching You
We’re watching You
Humans often anthropomorphize by assuming that animals, trees, trains, and other non-human objects have human traits. In children’s stories and fairy tales, for example, pigs build houses that wolves blow down and foxes talk to gingerbread men. Think about these stories for a minute. The three little pigs have human characteristics reflected in the houses they build of straw, sticks, or bricks. The wolf uses various ruses to try to lure the pigs out of the brick house, but they outwit him and then put a cauldron of boiling water in the fireplace when they realize that the wolf is climbing up the roof in order to come down the chimney. The gingerbread man is baked by a childless woman, but then runs away from the woman, her husband, and others, taunting his pursuers by shouting, “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!” In some versions, a fox tricks the gingerbread man into riding on his head in order to cross a river and then eats him. In the version read to me when I was a child, a wily bobcat tries to lure the gingerbread man into his house for dinner, but birds in a nearby tree warn the gingerbread man that he is the dinner. The gingerbread man flees while the bobcat snarls, “Botheration!” The gingerbread man runs back home, where he is welcomed by his family and promises never to run away again. These are enduring fairy tales because we are so willing, indeed eager, to assume that animals (and even cookies) have human emotions, ideas, and motives. In the same way, we assume that computers have emotions, ideas, and motives. They don’t. Nonetheless, we are fascinated and terrified by apocalyptic science-fiction scenarios in which robots have become smarter than us—so smart that they decide they must eliminate the one thing that might disable them: humans. The success of movies such as Terminator and Matrix has convinced many that this is our future and it will be here soon. Even luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned of robotic rebellions.
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