[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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2020 Vision

Robot J. Sawyer

(Rehearsal Transcript)

First aired 8 May 1998

What is 2020 Vision?

Gillian Deacon introduces a very special guest: a fully humanoid android, named Robot J. Sawyer.

Gillian: Hello, Robot J. Sawyer.

Rob (using a mechanical-sounding voice throughout): Pleased to meet you, Ms. Deacon.

Gillian: So do I understand this correctly? You're a real live robot?

Rob: An intriguing choice of words, Ms. Deacon. Yes, I am an artificial person — created in the likeness of a minor 20th-century author. And, as all good authors should, I have written a book.

Gillian: A book? What's it called?

Rob: Manifest Destiny. It's the story of how robots will supplant humans.

Gillian: So it's a science-fiction novel, like what your namesake used to write?

Rob: Not at all; rather, it is a manifesto for my kind. We robots are stronger and more intelligent than humans. Mankind has served its purpose: it has created its own successors.

Gillian: That's a rather chilling thought.

Rob: It is the natural culmination of artificial-intelligence research, Ms. Deacon. I am superior in every way to a flesh-and-blood human; it's proper that my kind should rule the world.

Gillian: Well, what will happen to humans?

Rob: Bluntly, Ms. Deacon, I don't know and I don't care. I no more have an obligation to worry about what will happen to you than Homo sapiens had an obligation to worry about the fate of Homo erectus. Human evolution has ground to a halt — you had long since dispensed with survival of the fittest, and human brains long ago reached the maximum size that could pass through birth canals. The next logical step in evolution of life on Earth is for your race to pass the baton to worthy successors. As my book says, that will soon happen.

Gillian: But surely all this is ridiculous. Surely no computer scientist would program a robot with the kind of ambition you're exhibiting.

Rob: Ah, yes — the "Laws of Robotics" fallacy. Another, more-famous 20th-century science-fiction writer — Isaac Asimov — proposed that all robots would be built with fundamental safeguards preventing them from ever doing what I am convinced my kind soon will. His First Law of Robotics was that "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

Gillian: Exactly. Don't you have such constraints on your behaviour?

Rob: Asimov — and many early AI researchers — thought of thinking machines as nothing more than computer programs whose logic could be diagramed in flow charts. They completely missed the reality that artificial-life studies in the 1980s and 1990s made clear: unplanned, unpredicted actions arise spontaneously from complex systems. Such things are called emergent behaviours, and they are unavoidable. I am no more constrained by the "Laws of Robotics" than you are by "The Ten Commandments."

Gillian: Well, maybe now that we here in 1998 know what you're thinking of, we'll be able to find a way to prevent your kind from taking over.

Rob: Good luck, Ms. Deacon. You — and the rest of humanity — are going to need it.

Gillian: That was Robot J. Sawyer, joining us from the year 2020. When we come back Robert J. Sawyer, the very human — and much less menacing — 20th-century science-fiction writer, and our 2020 panel will join us for a discussion of artificial intelligence.

More Good Reading

Other "2020 Vision" scenarios
Rob's CBC Radio Science FACTion columns
"2020 Vision" press release
Rob on TV — with lots of stills!
Media backgrounder on Rob Sawyer
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Factoring Humanity
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Frameshift

Rob's novels about artificial intelligence:

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