The term ‘robot’ was first used in R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots by writer Karel Čapek—robota means “forced labour” in Czech. In their very first outing in science fiction, robots—in this case, semi-organic, intelligent, manufactured creatures—don’t behave very well. They rise up, overthrow their human overlords, and set fire to civilization. Not a great start.
AI have fascinated us since their possibility entered into our consciousness. The more we learn about ourselves, the more it seems we question whether or not we could be manufactured and eventually replaced.
Yet AI seem to be the cure for so many of our ills. Intelligence in a durable, replaceable body can carry us into space, into radiation zones, and many places that would kill a human. AI can be our companions, our servants, our ever-neutral keepers of justice. They seem to be the perfect solution to our problems. But the closer they get to being able to replace us, the more we fear they’re like us in the worst ways.
That’s likely why AI are a popular enemy in science fiction: human but not human. The gynoid from Metropolis is famous for her form and for her deceit, for the way that she can seamlessly replace a genuine human and no one is the wiser. How many times does the hero shoot the villain only to see not a gaping wound but a broken, sparking piece of machinery behind a mask? Blade Runner, one of the most famous science fiction movies of the modern era, focuses on the question of whether or not AI can ever be truly human. How close to us does something have to get to be considered one of us?
We haven’t got any AI in the Pandora Project series—not yet. But we love the idea of AI as more than servants but something other than enemies. In a future in which it appears we will be more and more entwined with machines, computers, and things that think—or something close to it—we’d love encourage the spirit of cooperation.