Robots are often portrayed as an entity that should be feared in science fiction movies. The plot usually follows that the robots become self-aware, unite with each other and inevitably take control of the human population. As a result, people may become apprehensive about certain advances in robot technology. Some researchers have even begun studies on whether or not a robot uprising is a plausible threat to society. Despite these fears, scientists are continuing in their work to incorporate robotics into human life externally as well as internally.
The famous quote from that 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man, sums up the direction in which some scientists are heading, “We can rebuild him, we have the technology.” Already there are cyborgs in existence, although they may not be seen that way. Pacemakers and hearing implants are just a few examples of common cyborg technology. The advances continue to expand and start to enter the science fiction realm as scientists develop ways for robots to essentially control humans.
This week in a meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists made a presentation on cyborg technology and how it can be used to communicate with the brain. Cells are able to communicate with each other through nanoelectronic connections which can be disrupted due to neurodegenerative diseases. Malfunctioning nerve cells make it difficult for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. If robots are able to unite with the human body at this level, it could provide relief for humans and not distress. With the right technology, such as nanowires, scientists are able to influence and monitor what goes on in cells.
That could mean enhanced prosthetics that can be controlled directly by the brain or devices that can help patients with Parkinson’s to communicate movements in their body in place of their malfunctioning nerve cells. The human brain however, is one of the most complex organs for scientist to work with. They have been able to control the brains of insects to make them carry out an action, but this would prove more difficult for humans. The practice calls ethics into question.
If robot technology is able to send information to the brain or parts of the body, the human attached to such mechanics needs to still have free will. Otherwise, the robot is no longer serving the human, but the other way around. That scenario may start to resemble something similar to science fiction movies. Ultimately scientists intend for robots to only enhance the quality of life for humans. After all, humans are the ones who create the robots.
Robots are capable of malfunctioning, so if the brain is united with a mechanical device, it could pose a danger in the future to humans that are dependant on it. This however, does not mean that robots will become sentient and develop a malicious agenda. They can have no other agenda than what is programmed by the creators of the mechanism. If something goes wrong, it is the creator of the robot who is responsible. This is why scientists continue to develop and work towards technology that will serve humans, while keeping in mind safety and the ethics of the work they conduct.
By Kamille Dawkins