The Human Touch

I was spending yet another eternity at a traffic light that wasn't working, because there was no power, waiting for the traffic policeman to realize that our lane was now full of vehicles stretching for a couple of miles when I began day dreaming about robots that would have handled the same job so much more efficiently and rationally.

They could keep track of how many vehicles there were, the speed with which traffic was moving, how congested the crossing further down were, how long each side had been waiting and weigh all these factors to decide who needed to be let through next. It would lead to shorter waits and smoother traffic. And this could be extended to so many more jobs! The whole bureaucracy could be automated and thus streamlined and made free from corruption and nepotism.

But then I realized that this was just the bright side. In doing so, we'd be losing the human element. These jobs would all be in proximity to people. And I really don't think we'd ever be making robots with circuits to understand the subtleties of human behaviour because to give them the understanding would be to give them those characteristics and hence make them human. And that is not what we want to do. We may pretend that we want to build machines that mimic humans as closely as possible but I think we all realize, subconsciously, that to do that, beyond a limit, would be to make them more alien and a source of fear. They have to be recognizable as machines made to simulate life. They have to seem servile and controllable. You wouldn't want to own a robot that could do everything better than you, looked better than you, would never age and may even decide that it was, in fact, better than you and so didn't need to serve you anymore!

Well, back to the point. By using automation we bring efficiency, get rid of corruption, favoritism, nepotism and all the negative qualities that we hate. But we must realize that we also lose out on the human touch; we lose out on sympathy, pity, compassion, understanding and all those little things that make us human and make life easier. Robots aren't going to understand the need to get to a dying parent's bedside. They won't understand the value of getting to the hospital to be present at your child’s birth.

As much as we hate them, it's the people who will give in when you need it the most.

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