Waking Up with Sam Harris #66 – Living with Robots (with Kate Darling)

The Waking-Up Podcast

#66 – Living with Robots:

In this Episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Kate Darling about the ethical concerns surrounding our increasing use of robots and other autonomous systems.

Kate Darling is a leading expert in robot ethics. She’s a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, where she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Kate is also a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Yale Information Society Project, and is an affiliate at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. She explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and public policy. Her writing and research anticipate difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. Kate has a background in law & economics and intellectual property.

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Kate Darling


Mistress of Machines. Human-robot interaction, robot ethics, IP theory & policy at MIT . Fellow at and affiliate.

Cambridge, MA


(Photo via the Séb)

Cyborgs in fiction

Cyborgs in Fiction

In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Man That Was Used Up”, the narrator visits a heroic General at his home, and discovers that most of his body has been destroyed in a war and replaced by a collection of prostheses, so that his body must be assembled piece by piece.

In the story The Ablest Man in the World (1879), by Edward Page Mitchell, a computer (said to be inspired by ‘Babbage’s calculating machine’, presumably the real-life difference engine designed by Charles Babbage) is inserted into a man’s head, turning him into a genius.

The Tin Woodman from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (at least before he became entirely metal).
Gaston Leroux, the author of The Phantom of the Opera, wrote a 1923 story titled La poupée sanglante – La machine à assassiner (translated as The Machine to Kill in the English edition) in which the brain of a guillotined murderer is inserted into a “clockwork man”.

“The Machine Man of Ardathia” by George Henry Weiss (published under the name Francis Flagg, a pseudonym for Weiss[2]), which appeared in the November 1927 issue of Amazing Stories, featured a time-traveling descendant of humanity from 28,000 years in the future, who lived inside of a transparent cylinder filled with machinery that had been integrated into his body, and who commented that among his people each embryo is placed inside such a cylinder and “the various tubes and mechanical devices are introduced into the body by our mechanics and become an integral part of it.”

The Mi-go aliens in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, first appearing in the story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931), can transport humans from Earth to Pluto (and beyond) and back again by removing the subject’s brain and placing it into a “brain cylinder”, which can be attached to external devices to allow it to see, hear, and speak.

Deirdre, a famous dancer who was burned nearly completely and whose brain was placed in a faceless but beautiful mechanical body, in C. L. Moore’s short story of 1944, “No Woman Born”. Collected in “The Best of C. L. Moore” in 1975

Jonas the (star) sailor in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun novels. His near light speed ship had been gone so long that on its return to Urth, there were no space port facilities any more, and it crashed. Other crew members patched him up from available parts. (However, he started out as fully robotic, and was repaired with human parts, rather than the more usual reverse).

Molly Millions, Henry Dorsett Case, and Peter Riviera all have some sort of cybernetic augmentation in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy.

Professor Jameson, a cyborg pulp hero by Neil R. Jones, and his allies and benefactors, the Zoromes.
Marge Piercy’s He, She and It presents a rather feminist view on the cyborg issue with Yod who, however, is provided with some male attributes.

Anne McCaffrey wrote short stories and novels known as The Ship Series (1961–) where otherwise crippled humans live on as the brains of starships and large space stations.

The genetically engineered and prosthetics-ready warriors of the planet Sauron in the CoDominium series of short stories and novels initiated by Jerry Pournelle and also written by guest authors.

In Martin Caidin’s novel, Cyborg, a test pilot named Steve Austin is rebuilt after a horrendous crash, given new “bionic” limbs, and becomes a superspy. Followed by several sequel novels and also adapted as the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man.

Caidin’s retelling of the Buck Rogers story, Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future, has Rogers being partially rebuilt as a cyborg after his hibernation and includes a reference to Steve Austin.
Angus Thermopyle, The Gap Cycle.

Haberman and Scanners from Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith.

The Comprise, a computer-mediated hive mind which has taken over Earth, in the novel Vacuum Flowers by Michael Swanwick.

Rat Things in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. They are attack-programmed guard dogs whose long hairless tails make them look less like dogs and more like rats. They are powered by nuclear engines that will fatally over-heat if they stop. Technology invented by Mr. Ng and, evidently, made exclusively for the defense of the franchise Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.

In William C. Dietz’s Legion of the Damned the Legion is made up of a combination of humans and heavily armed cyborgs.

Kage Baker has written a series of novels about The Company in which orphans from various eras (who fit certain physical requirements) are recruited by a time-traveling corporation, augmented and turned into immortal cyborgs, and trained to rescue valuable artifacts from history.

Shrike in Dan Simmons novel series Hyperion.

Hannes Suessi from David Brin’s Uplift novels is transformed into a cyborg by the time he re-appears in Infinity’s Shore

Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire prominently features cyborgs called “Jagernauts”, who are empaths or even telepaths, who serve as elite fighter pilots. Many prominent members of the Ruby Dynasty ruling the Skolian Empire are jagernauts.

Linda Nagy, a.k.a. Ellen Troy, who has wetware in her brain, spines in her fingers (for linking with computers) and an antenna that lets her shut down machine remotely from the Venus Prime series by Arthur C. Clarke and Paul Preuss

Jessamyn ‘Krokodil’ Bonney, protagonist of Kim Newman’s Demon Download series was extensively augmented by Dr. Simon Threadneedle, also a cyborg.

The main protagonist of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Linh Cinder, is a cyborg.

Cyborgs in popular culture

Cyborgs have become a well-known part of science fiction literature and other media. Although many of these characters may be technically androids, they are often referred to as cyborgs. Well-known examples from film and television include RoboCop, The Terminator, Evangelion, United States Air Force Colonel Steve Austin in both Cyborg and, as acted out by Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man, Replicants from Blade Runner, Daleks and Cybermen from Doctor Who, the Borg from Star Trek, Darth Vader and General Grievous from Star Wars, Inspector Gadget, and Cylons from the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series. From manga and anime are characters such as 8 Man (the inspiration for RoboCop), Kamen Rider, Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi, as well as characters from western comic books like Tony Stark (after his Extremis and Bleeding Edge armor) and Victor “Cyborg” Stone. The Deus Ex videogame series deals extensively with the near-future rise of cyborgs and their corporate ownership, as does the Syndicate series. William Gibson’s Neuromancer features one of the first female cyborgs, a “Razorgirl” named Molly Millions, who has extensive cybernetic modifications and is one of the most prolific cyberpunk characters in the science fiction canon.

Cybernetic Organism

A cyborg (short for “cybernetic organism”) is a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts. The term was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.

Early Engraving of a Man Machine
Early Engraving of a Man Machine

The term cyborg is not the same thing as bionic, biorobot or android; it applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, including humans, they might also conceivably be any kind of organism. It is hypothesized that cyborg technology will form a part of postbiological evolution, in the form of transhumanism – where people are artificially enhanced beyond their original biological characteristics.[citation needed]

D. S. Halacy’s Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman in 1965 featured an introduction which spoke of a “new frontier” that was “not merely space, but more profoundly the relationship between ‘inner space’ to ‘outer space’ – a bridge…between mind and matter.” In popular culture, some cyborgs may be represented as visibly mechanical (e.g., the Cybermen in the Doctor Who franchise or The Borg from Star Trek or Darth Vader from Star Wars); as almost indistinguishable from humans (e.g., the “Human” Cylons from the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica etc.) The 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man featured one of the most famous fictional cyborgs, referred to as a bionic man; the series was based upon a novel by Martin Caidin titled Cyborg. Cyborgs in fiction often play up a human contempt for over-dependence on technology, particularly when used for war, and when used in ways that seem to threaten free will. Cyborgs are also often portrayed with physical or mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart (military forms may have inbuilt weapons, among other things).