Touch my button

Some weeks ago I heard a serious Radio 4 discussion on future sexual activity provided through artificial intelligence. It assumed that some day, not too long in the future, we would have the facility of sexual robots – presumably of any gender or favoured anatomical details which, to the eye and touch, would be indistinguishable from the real things. One would of course be able to select any form of sexual activity according to taste at the time. This would seem to be the epitome of separating sexual activity from any element of personality and love.

Something similar is already happening in Japan. I understand that many young men who show no interest in sex, achieve their emotional satisfaction by sustaining fictional relationships with young girls who appear only in cartoon form in a game which is accessed through a tablet computer. Against a background of many years of economic stagnation, they have tuned out of the real world and opted for a retreat into fantasy. About a third of unmarried women under 34 have no partner, and double that proportion of men. And many claim that they are “not even looking”. About a quarter of both sexes are virgins. Anecdotal reports suggest that committed relationships are hazardous, expensive, and interfere with other life choices.

Fortunately I am now at an age when such changes in attitude will not affect me directly. But, were these to do so, I would remind myself of the nature of artificial intelligence. I have quite a lot of it in my house already. Take my washing machine. Once the power button is pressed it works making several appropriate decisions, and eventually presents me with clean clothes, already nearly dry, and fit to hang up in the kitchen. Similarly my central heating does its job of switching on and off, requiring me only to interfere at the change of the seasons.

An intelligent robot is in no way different in principle. It has a much higher degree of autonomy since we now have digital control and programs which can make far more defined decisions through their vast complexity. But they are no more persons, have no more intelligence and no more freedom and consciousness than my washing machine.

Could I, in a moment of frustration and far into my cups, ever fully convince myself that a robot which appeared to be a delightful blonde with infinite sexual appetites, would really meet my need? If it were so, I would be careful in my use of her control panel. Pressing sado masochism might be a mistake.

How do we foresee the condition of a society which is gradually separating sexual expression from love and commitment?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

88 Responses to Touch my button

  1. Martha says:

    Your Post this week reminds me that I resisted the idea of an automatic washing machine for a long time, through about ten years of washing for four babies, including terry nappies, gladly saving the money, but mainly because I wanted our children to grow up knowing the reality of the washing process, and we did have an inherited machine with a heater and a power assisted wringer, so it was not complete slave labour. Maybe more time to spend with the children would have been a better choice, I don’t know, and with the fifth baby the up to date machine at last entered our household.

    Using artificial intelligence to make sexual robots as you describe, and which I have read about in the press recently, is a truly chilling and terrifying development which will lead to a nightmare prospect of depersonalising human relationships. I think that even to use them for personal care which is also going to be done soon is very frightening. We will become objects to each other even more than some already are, and real human interaction will be very changed.

    One little chink occurs to me, whether there might ever be room for some limited use for people with physical or mental disabilities which make normal relationships impossible, or is this always outside the pale, and part of the cross which our faith requires them to carry?

  2. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin.
    You ask ‘How do we foresee the condition of a society which is gradually separating sexual expression from love and commitment’?
    I would believe that we have already reached that conclusion!

  3. Horace says:

    As a one-time “Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence” I am rather confused by the current post.
    Neither the ‘washing machine’ nor the ‘central heating’ mentioned fits my concept of ‘Artifical intelligence’ – unless the ‘washing machine’ is able to determine the nature of the fabric to be washed (including, for example, the colouring of the fabric and any coloured printing).
    Similarly the ‘central heating’ would need to know about the humans (or animals) in each room and how they are behaving!

    When it comes to ‘sexual activity’ the requirements are similar but a bit more complicated but, unless we are considering a physical robot, this will be purely intellectual and in no way significantly different from a program which would interactively explain, for example, the meaning of a recorded mathematical textbook.

    • Quentin says:

      I can understand why a professional would demand a higher level of competence to apply the term ‘artificial intelligence’. But my point is that the principle is just the same for the washing machine, only the extent of the algorithm differs..

  4. Iona says:

    Quentin is talking about physical robots, isn’t he?
    “which, to the eye and touch, would be indistinguishable from the real things”.

  5. John Thomas says:

    “gradually separating sexual expression from love and commitment?” Erm .. ‘gradually’ … Haven’t we (well, not WE, society) been doing this for some while..?

  6. St.Joseph says:

    Iona.
    How would that compare to Vibrators, surely that is a mechanical robot in a sense for females!
    How would males find their satisfaction from a robot. Don’t we have blow up rubber dolls already.
    To me it is mind blogging.

  7. Alan says:

    The progress of machine learning might suggest another step forward in artificial intelligence and its potential. Something that could set future robots far apart from the washing machines and central heating we have now. I’m not sure for how long we will be able to say they lack freedom or intelligence or even consciousness. Defining those things so as to leave ourselves as distinct and special from tomorrow’s Hotpoint could become very difficult.

    The recent win against a human Go champion was interesting I thought. Programmed with the rules and the goals of the game the A.I. developed at least some of its own strategies. Even to the point of reportedly making an effective move that hadn’t been recognised by any serious player to date. Poker could be next on the list I’ve heard. A game made more difficult due to the lack of all the information about each hand. With some facial recognition software thrown in perhaps an A.I. will one day be able to spot its opponents tells!

    Self drive cars, sex robots, autonomous weapons …

    I can see some hurdles just down the track that we might not want to jump but none that we obviously wont be able to.

  8. G.D. says:

    Another case of ‘just because we can’ technologically without the wisdom to use it creatively. It’s Anathema.
    Another example of how we ‘pander to self gratification’ (pun intended) for profit and abuse (pun intended) ourselves. Yet another tool (pun intended) used to destroy Humane Being.

    What are THEY doing to this God given world!!??

    Perversely (pun not intended!) there may be some good in it? …… if sexual bots are that real then maybe the abusers will leave people (those who are trying to be real beings) alone, and vent their delinquent lusts elsewhere.

    The sex slave trade could become defunct! Saving a lot of misery, especially for children!
    Think the ‘oldest profession’ would be made redundant? Or become a selective taste at higher prices? Can see the human prostitutes advert ‘why settle for the artificial have a real woman instead’.

  9. galerimo says:

    Thanks Quentin – I think its a wonderful idea. As John Beecham said “try everything once except incest and folk dancing”. I have full confidence in your careful use of the control panel and wait to hear what it was like to see if I will give it a go myself.

    Pornogrgaphy is as old as the hills and will never go away – and like all addictive behaviours we have to learn to navigate our way through it or around it on the seas of happiness. Come the progress, come the porn.

    AI is amazing. Just imagine the artificial intelligence that will allow us to have a virtual conversation with Jesus of Nazareth or Mary his mother. I am sure the technology exists somewhere right now that would allow us to interact with the great Saint or Master of any Spiritual Tradition. I am grateful to live in such a world.

    Heck – I am talking to St Joseph in this very Blog !!!!

    I am sure there would have been the same reactions to the introduction of writing, printing, air travel, rock and roll and birth control. And the loud protests could lead you to believe that the incarnation was a big mistake and God never intended us to be part of this world.

    • St.Joseph says:

      galerimo.
      We already have a virtual conversation with Jesus of Nazareth and Mary our Mother and the Holy Spirit, they speak to us if we listen, they have all spoken to us, first the problem being we do not always listen, unfortunately we do not tune in to the right station!

    • Quentin says:

      Galerimo, I don’t know if you watched the Spy in the Wild series on BBC 1. It used robot animals with camera eyes. The final episode was on 3 February, where they showed the methodology and key instances of its use. I caught myself having feelings for the robot even though I had seen its electronic skeleton. Perhaps, at an advanced age, I might still be moved by a human robot.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        What I found more important with the Spy in the Wild and that is the ability of the animals to have a soul and behave with their off-spring as parents ought to, love and protection.

        I did not see a ‘soul’ in the robots activities. Did you?

      • St J. I agree with you. Robots cannot have souls in the sense that we use the word. But because our brains make connections without consulting us we can, at least momentarily, get caught out.

      • galerimo says:

        LOL – I never doubted your sense of humour. Plenty of life in you yet! g

    • John Candido says:

      Thank you Galerimo, your reply to Quentin has left me in convulsions of laughter, of which I would probably need an appointment to see an orthopaedic surgeon to repair my broken ribs! It also clearly points to the fact that I have been away from the blog for a number of months and have missed a number of interesting encounters between yourself and others on the blog.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Candido .
        It is good to see you back.
        However I would be very careful with what you laugh at, a rule that I was brought up with as a child by my parents and that is ‘Never to laugh in God’s face!
        Not saying that you are but we can push Him so far if we are not careful with ‘our sense of humour’!!

      • John Candido says:

        St.Joseph you must be completely demented!

      • St.Joseph says:

        JC.
        You are right there for me to continue to listen to your insults.
        I don’t wish to hear any more from you if you please.
        I am out of here,

      • Quentin de la Bedoyere says:

        John, St Joseph may be right or wrong but she is the last contributor to this blog whom I would describe as ‘demented’.Since we claim to be rational let’s keep to the argument and avoid personalities.

      • John Candido says:

        I will try to be better behaved towards St.Joseph.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        Yes I may be right or wrong I can accept that
        However, this blog is about Faith and Science, I may not know a great deal with regards to science only the truth about Fertility Awareness and the disgraceful methods of masturbation with robots , where John Candido is ‘all for it’!
        This is a insult against our Maker and the way we are made in the beginning since He made one man and one women, and gave us the intelligence to understand when to conceive and not to conceive.
        I will not be dragged down to the level that Satan wants our human nature to disrespect the Laws by which we must live by!
        I will continue always to defend my faith and Holy Mother Church regardless of those who wish to destroy it!

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph, you will not be surprised to hear that I too disagree with John Candido’s views. But my job is not to censor contributions unless they are illegal in some way. I also encourage everyone to write rationally and to avoid hurtful personal remarks. This way we may all get closer to the truth. And enjoy using the Blog.

        You know JC of old. He is given to challenging everyone by making extreme points. We can either answer these with good arguments or simply ignore them. I’d be prepared to bet that every time he is able to ruffle feathers he is delighted with his success. Don’t join his game.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        John Candido can ruffle me as much as he likes, but I will always defend The Lord’s teachings against insults even though I know He can defend Himself. He suffered enough insults on the Cross!
        Otherwise why are we Christians?

      • galerimo says:

        Be careful with those ribs John – they take a long time to heal and I couldn’t bear the responsibility ! g

  10. Martha says:

    Unfortunately, we missed the last episode, and I wonder if there was mention of scent and smell which is very important for animal recognition, sometimes more than physical appearance, which was amazing?

    The robot animals are certainly a great advance on furry toys, cuddly animals, teddy bears, which can also arouse quite strong feelings of comfort and affection, but we know they are not real, and I think the danger with human robots is that the distinction between the artificial and the real will become blurred.

    f they become more autonomous in some respects which is likely, and able to develop beyond the control of their designers, will they be considered to be a new species?

    I believe robots of human aspect and appearance have been trialled in some schools in Japan, but again, they are not real people and this could have very dangerous effects on young minds, despite some benefits and advantages. It is distancing humanity from the real warts and all experience of life. In some ways, technical advance always does this, as Galerimo says, and as I took into account regarding our washing machine mentioned previously, but developments can be taken too far, dangerously so.

    The use of robots for sexual purposes seems to me to be a sophisticated and diabolical form of masturbation. I agree with G. D. that it may save some women and girls, males also, from prostitution, and, as previously, I wonder about those who are unable to manage human relationships. Other developments are possible now that Pandora’s box is being opened even wider. For instance, could semen be incorporated into male robots so that conception and pregnancy could follow?

  11. St.Joseph says:

    Martha.
    I believe they will never be able to have conscience, unless of course all the programme of Truth as we all are taught within our religion as Christians !0 Commandments as such, all the million insights of the past Saints etc etc etc and the teachings of Jesus, parable etc.
    The mind boggles!.

  12. Horace says:

    “The use of robots for sexual purposes seems to me to be a sophisticated and diabolical form of masturbation.” I unequivocally agree !

  13. St.Joseph says:

    How long will Our Blessed Mother hold Her Sons hand back ?
    How low can humans stoop, God is giving us a free hand ,He will have to interfere soon if He has not yet done so!

  14. Geordie says:

    Is this the beginning of the end? The state the world’s in, it seems like it to me. But people have thought like that in every generation.

  15. John Candido says:

    While at times there is a need to examine what could be any negative social implications of scientific and technological advances, we also need to show caution in becoming hyperbolic towards anything that is new. This is where advances in science and technology can have the effect of turning some of us into neo-Luddites.

    There is a doubling of this danger when one’s perspective in life is continually and wholly referenced by what the Vatican, Papal writing, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has pronounced on a range of issues.This is where evidence to the contrary on specific doctrinal matters are ignored for the sake of homogeneity and loyalty to one’s faith.

    In the past, I was as guilty of this as anyone else in the church as it is extraordinarily difficult to differ on a question in this most authoritarian of churches.

    On the question of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), there are most likely more plusses than minuses for their full development. Amongst the plusses, I would count the capacity of eliminating the need for any human being to do any dangerous work ever again in a factory, a mineshaft or underwater, or on any building site. Labourers will never accidentally fall from a building site ever again.

    Highly intelligent robots will be our police and military in future, they will inhabit every class of soldier, sailor and airman. As policemen, they will bring crime down considerably. They will also be ambulance personnel and members of our fire brigades.

    As policemen, they will do their job without complaint. They will never tire, be bribable, and will have a huge database of fingerprints, DNA profiles and every single police record on file contained in their memory banks, while they patrol on foot, in a car or in a helicopter.

    Once privacy considerations have been attended to robots can be used to stop any threat to any children at risk of child abuse in families. They can be placed in any family to stay with them for this protective role and as a help with all of the more commonplace and mundane domestic tasks that have to be attended to on a daily basis.

    They may be used as a domestic aid, cleaning the house, as a cook, a gardener, sewing clothes, doing the shopping, and every domestic task that humans mostly women have been doing since the dawn of time.

    Intelligent robotic assistants along with drones in the sky will be used in every form of search and rescue in future.

    They will be an endless source of fun as an opponent in games of chess, draughts, Go, card games, and have the capacity to play with both adults and children.

    They will have a database of information that much like our mobile phones or our computers along with Wikipedia and every other significant database of knowledge. They will be able to answer any question from us instantly and authoritatively.

    I really look forward to the advent of highly intelligent autonomous robots, who along with highly versatile drones that have onboard cameras, will change our lives permanently and in a sustainable manner that will enrich human life immeasurably.

    We will soon be able to have them cook any dish from any cuisine in the world!

    http://www.moley.com/

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Candido.
      I think you may misunderstand our Catholic faith,
      WE do not go along blindfolded with what the Church teaches. Only those who do not understand our faith or take the time with Grace to understand it
      Tell me what we believe that we as Catholics don’t understand??
      We are not Robots!

      • John Candido says:

        Catholics by and large are quite intelligent people until they are asked to conform to the teaching authority of the catholic church as lay people. When that happens they can be placed in a troubled space. Sometimes their experiences of life in general and their experiences of the catholic church as an authoritative teaching institution, don’t ring true to what is asked or expected of them as lay people.

        Take the issues of masturbation, virginity, sex between consenting adults both of whom are not married, homosexuality and the use of artificial contraceptive devices.

        There is a tremendous gulf between the teaching authority of the catholic church and the beliefs and practices of the laity today, as eluded to by Quentin in an earlier post.

        There is always a diehard loyal ‘rump’ that would espouse these straight jacketed beliefs, no matter what! If you are happy with maintaining them, fine. I am not a part of the ‘official brigade’ of lay people who nosily spy on others and find it their gleeful duty to report recalcitrants to some putrid Vatican congregation full of celibate stiffs.

        What a total joke!

        I concede that some of these moral rules are important, but not all of them.

        Some of these doctrines over sexuality lack input from contemporary science, and are completely redundant, embarrassing, perverse, sexist and homophobic!

        This is 2017!

        When will the church realise that it is flogging a particularly putrid, dead horse such as the cloisters of a celibate clericalism, outdated sexual teachings, our moronic obeisance to original sin and the shrill perversity of excluding women from the priesthood!

        These points particularly rankle me due to the church’s agonisingly glacial and inconsistent responses to the worldwide, child abuse scandal, perpetrated by catholic priests and religious!

        Partly as a result of the Augustinian teaching on original sin, his sexual ethics, the hokey and corruptible use of subsidiarity, and partly as a result of the celibate male power structure in the Vatican, i.e. its ultimate betrayal of decency and normalcy with continued clericalism. No child is safe when this idiocy and lunacy continues!

        Suffer the little children?

        What a sham! What a betrayal of Christ!

      • Martha says:

        Something has certainly touched your button, John. I personally do not know anyone “who nosily spies on others and finds it their gleeful duty to report recalcitrants etc.” but I do know that there have been many complaints about lack of reporting of sexual abuse of children.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John I pity you and your lack of Grace not to understand That is why you are not a Catholic
        I will continue to pray for you!

      • John Candido says:

        I suppose I should tell you my button has been and continues to be pressed. It is news articles like these two below.

        http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/catholic-church-extent-of-child-abuse-revealed/8246750

        http://johnmenadue.com/blog/?p=9339

      • John Candido says:

        You are beyond any hope St.Joseph!

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Candido
        So what! What’s new . Satan will always be where the weakness is. One of the things that you do not understand through your lack of Grace.
        God will be my judge, not you!!

      • John Candido says:

        This is an interesting article about compulsory celibacy and why it is still the rule in the western-rite catholic church. The reason it is still a silly little rule is that it cannot change without the permission of an all-male, celibate power-brokers in the Vatican, i.e. clericalism.

        http://johnmenadue.com/blog/?p=9342

      • St.Joseph says:

        JC.
        I am not interested!

      • John Candido says:

        You are not interested! I am not surprised at all.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Candido
        As you say, you are all for those who use robots for masturbation you are all for it tells me a lot about you!!!

      • John Candido says:

        I am so relieved that someone has finally understood me at last! Time for a drink in celebration! Will anyone join me for drinkies?

  16. John Candido says:

    On the issue of whether people may use robots as sexual aids, I am all for it! As I view the catholic church’s view on masturbation rather dimly, I don’t care what people do with robots in the privacy of their own homes. As long as nobody is doing any harm to others what possible difference will it make?

    This sort of activity may even be found to be positive in certain therapeutic contexts. For example, the reform of prisoners who may be in prison for rape or child abuse. This sort of activity may be a preventative measure that will help to protect women and children.

    Society will no doubt be vigilant that the entire software code that any robots operate under autonomously, will never harm any human being. Especially as robots will be writing software code in future, and designing and building other robots using technology such as 3D printing.

    This will be a safe activity through humans who will impose a strict code of conduct so that society will place on all robotic technology, code that excludes any threats or actual violence against human beings.

    The exceptions to this will be when robotic policemen encounter a robbery or some sort of melee between people, where they will have to make an accurate assessment of who is the aggressor in each encounter they have.

    Highly intelligent robots will be used as teachers aids in future where they will be interacting with pupils of any age as a facilitator of student-based learning.

    http://movies.nationalgeographic.com/movies/robots/

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/oppenheimerfunds/2016/09/26/why-spider-robots-could-be-the-next-big-thing-in-3-d-printing/#6a1060e349d9

    http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/07/military-robotics-makers-see-future-armed-police-robots/129769/

    • Quentin says:

      While I have allowed this comment to stand (so glad I am to see JC in good fettle again), please remember that ordinarily the maximum number of links in a contribution is two.

  17. Martha says:

    BBC Radio 4 are doing a 3 part series on robots and artificial intelligence, Tuesdays 11-11.30 am. I have just listened to part 1 which explored the history of its development, really interesting and useful as far as I am concerned.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Martha.
      I find it all an insult to the Lord our Maker, when a Robot takes over the humanity that He created for us. There is a limit to where God will intervene. I wonder where that will be.

      • John Candido says:

        God will have no need to intervene! The economy and government regulation will intervene on Her behalf!

  18. G.D. says:

    John C, it will all depend on the programme given to the bots. And i for one do not trust the so called ‘elite’ not to programme according to their own agenda. As it will be done. A miserable existence for most; if any survive.

    We no longer have the wisdom to use our advanced ‘tools’ productively for humane society.
    Would be all for the advancements if we did ….. But we just ain’t got it.
    Despite the many way’s it is used beneficently at the present time.

    Besides, as the capability of the A.I. to ‘reason’ (as it does rudimentary now) advances, and it will, the programming given it, without any heart, will ‘compute’ to control rather than be controlled.

    All hail the military bots and the police bots – or be done away with!

    Much of today’s science fiction is tomorrows science fact; as it has been proved by past science fiction which is now fact.

    Or then again maybe the earth will decide to give up it’s struggle against the devastation we reap on it before then …. anything is possible.

    Thanks be to God for ‘The Present Moment’ where the physical realm is transfigured and made something else; there Being will continue as wisdom dictates not some programme. And then, just maybe, even the bots will be validated?
    But as it stands …. Anathema.

    • Alan says:

      G.D. – “Much of today’s science fiction is tomorrows science fact; as it has been proved by past science fiction which is now fact.”

      But which of today’s science fiction is correct? I can think of several fictional tales which present robots or A.I. as benevolent and beneficial. With hindsight it’s easy to point out which past predictions become fact. Some of them are bound to be close to the truth since they cover all the bases. No reason to think the worst on that account.

      G.D. – “Besides, as the capability of the A.I. to ‘reason’ (as it does rudimentary now) advances, and it will, the programming given it, without any heart, will ‘compute’ to control rather than be controlled.”

      I don’t see “heart” making much of a difference in that decision. Assuming mankind is the compassionate example, would we be any more likely to submit to control in such circumstances (where the controlled are smarter than the controllers)? It seems unlikely.

      I’d have thought that the risk to us is not that future A.I. will lack heart. The risk is that it will have a heart too much like our own.

      • G.D. says:

        Agreed on both counts … if … but … maybe. Anything is possible.
        The heart(less) man programming A.I. …. duh!
        from my last post … ‘it will all depend on the programme given to the bots. And i for one do not trust the so called ‘elite’ not to programme according to their own agenda. As it will be done.’ …. is being done even.

  19. Martha says:

    Yes, St. Joseph, I think it is not right for AI and robotic developments to lead to complete separation from what I think of as reality, and from our God given humanity.

    The Genesis account speaks of earning our living in toil and sweat, and there is nothing like hands on experience for helping us to appreciate life and God’s creation, warts and all, working in a garden, smelling the earth, planting and harvesting food, cooking with fresh ingredients, hands on relations with each other, assistance to the sick and infirm, walking in the open air, physical games, individual creative work with real materials, and so on, as circumstances and health allow, and I think it is very important that we do not get too far away from these things into a world that is mainly virtual and artificial.

    However, there are many repetitive, mechanical and dehumanising tasks in factories and industry, in the production and distribution of food and goods for large populations, in communications and travel, as well as in homes, which are far more suitable, accurate and safe for mechanical and robotic systems, and indeed only possible now with them, and which themselves require considerable skill and knowledge to devise and operate and expand. There was very little humanity about the lives of the poor girls and women in match making factories in the 19th century for instance, or in numerous other degrading and dangerous occupations.

    Part 1 of the Radio 4 programme which I mentioned is well worth listening to, and I think is very helpful in understanding the stage we have reached now, and in thinking about future possibilities, decisions and direction which are already cause for great concern as you say, especially the one which this Post is discussing.

  20. St.Joseph says:

    Martha.
    I see what you are saying with regards to the working conditions in the 19th centuries, that need not be like that now. We are more civilised than in those days since the work houses.
    As you say man is made to work. Where will the work be when machines are doing it all, only perhaps in making the machines Going further into space travel etc when there is so much poverty here on earth so many wars, so many countries destroyed, so much atheism, so many refugees and homeless and hunger, and we are speaking about progress!!!
    Where does God fit into all this, He seems to be forgotten and Chistianity, churches being burnt down etc The brave new world which is supposed to be Robots, I am not convinced or impressed!

    • Martha says:

      I think it is easier in many ways to think of God and Christianity in terms of the more agrarian society in which Our Lord lived and the books of the Bible were written, but the Church has often been at the forefront of science, and needs to be involved just as much now so that we can help to steer new developments into good rather than towards the evils that you list and which tragically fill the news day after day. Fr. Andrew Pinsent is doing a lot of work in this country in the field of science. He gave a very positive talk in our parish a few years ago. I have just googled him, and also Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Catholics, and found an amazing amount of material.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Martha.
        I find it very confusing that the science of Fertility Awareness has not become more known amongst Marriage Care. Perhaps I am missing something. I stand to be corrected!

  21. John Candido says:

    One serious side-effect of having a multitude of autonomous, multiskilled, intelligent robots in future, that are much cheaper to use and maintain than any paid workforce, is what will be their impact on employment?

    This will require democratic societies to rethink the time-honoured, historical need for individuals to go to work to earn a living.

    Tomorrow’s capitalist might find themselves in an unimaginable lolly shop of autonomous and intelligent robots of every possible description, that will give them the power to either remove humans wholesale or drastically reduce their paid labour force to a skeleton staff. Humans will eventually find that they cannot possibly compete with robots on any level whatsoever, except that robots are not human beings but will do an excellent job at imitating them.

    The costs of purchasing and maintaining industrial robots will eventually be far cheaper than paying salaries to employees. No one needs reminding that humans will always have a need to stop work for illness, tiredness, lunch, tea breaks, holidays, workplace injuries, strikes for better pay and conditions, etc.

    Robots don’t!

    A team of them can be kept working on any employer’s behalf indefinitely and never complain to them about their wages, conditions, workplace safety or any other matter whatsoever! This is a not very well kept secret of theirs.

    When we have reached this tipping point, the causes of unemployment will probably no longer be described by economists and sociologists as ‘seasonal’ but ‘structural’, mostly due to adept, intelligent, cheap, autonomous robots.

    I think that the fall in the price of robots will resemble the fall in the price of computers, concomitant with a rise in their power.

    Even though this problem looks completely unsolvable, I am very confident that this will be addressed by democratic governments in one way or another.

    Governments will need to regulate the number and quality of robots that any business can responsibly use.

    Even without any regulation by governments, there are limits to what any businessman can do with robots.

    Let’s assume in future that businesses will decide to replace as much paid human labour as possible and replace them with robots. This is entirely reasonable for any business trying to lower costs and appears to make a lot of business sense.

    However, how can a mass of unemployed people afford the goods that these businesses churn out if they do not have a liveable wage? It would be a self-defeating scenario!

    Businesses will either have to re-employ people en masse, remain less profitable for the foreseeable future, or become bankrupt! All of which is silly.

    If that is the case, government intervention is de rigueur.

    At this point, robots will not only have far superior capacities to any humans that may have lived throughout history. Robots never complain, become sick, take a day off work, or lack any sleep.
    They never become bored, tired or have a breather, except for when they break down or need a spot of regular maintenance.

    If an economy is still based on laissez-faire neoliberalism and survives the transition to a world of ubiquitous robotic technology, which is highly unlikely. What may transpire is the provision of a ‘Universal Basic Income’ that will replace welfare payments.

    Discussion around the world by governments & intellectuals for a ‘universal basic income’ (UBI), being a potential solution to the future use of robotics. This will be paid to those who either choose to be unemployed or are forced into unemployment.

    Professor Robert Reich has a very simple and interesting video about the possible need for a UBI in future.

    Please watch!

    http://robertreich.org/post/151111696805

    • G.D. says:

      Your faith in the rulers amazes me. Wouldn’t be surprised if they sterilise the redundant ‘masses’ and keep the population numbers down to the bear minimum they can use.

      The use of bots is already making unemployment rampant. What are the ruling ‘democracies’ doing about it …. nowt.

      • G.D. says:

        further … if the use of bots is so much cheaper how come the cost of living is going up, and poverty is increasing?

    • Alan says:

      The data I can find from a quick search suggests that world wide poverty, and that of developed/developing countries in particular, has fallen quite fast over the last few decades. It depends a bit on what you mean by poverty of course, but the trend seems to be there regardless.

      I had heard that some countries are already considering implementing a universal or unconditional basic income.

  22. John Candido says:

    G.D. I am not a blind believer in ‘rulers’. I am an optimist with a dash of pessimism inside me somewhere.

    • G.D. says:

      Good on you John. Myself a pessimist with a dash of optimism inside. (God given, nothing to do with me!) . But look see the reality of the ‘rulers’ and what they are doing to us all.

      • John Candido says:

        I would have to agree with you on this aspect of society and let’s be clear, the rulers are to blame for this state of affairs. In Australia, both major political parties, being the Liberal party of Australia and the Labor party of Australia, have both been using economics as an ideology rather than employing it as a tool that can assist communities.

        It seems that what is actually happening on the ground in cities, country towns, suburbs and regional areas in Australia and it looks like the UK as well, is being ignored for the sake of ideological reasons. We need to get these parties out of their shell and having a fresh look at communities and their problems. As far as I can determine, economics has been used as a poor master but not as a rich servant.

        This is where the global ascendancy of economic rationalism or neoliberalism has turned economics into an ideology and not where it should be, a servant to policy makers and businesses alike!

        It is why poverty abounds and there is a vast gulf between the rich and the poor. The poor are even sneered at and made to feel that they are to blame for their circumstances when an objective look at economic policy and the unemployment rate would suggest that that proposition is both intellectually and morally bankrupt!

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

  23. Iona says:

    If John Candido’s “optimistic” predictions turn out to be correct, won’t human beings lose their raison d’etre, and won’t that be a dangerous state of affairs?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      We must always remember that The Lord is in charge! He will not be mocked!
      John Candido is not a prophet..
      ,

    • Alan says:

      Not necessarily Iona. It may seem that way at first glance but I have read that people who receive a universal income, without any requirement to work, often find and fund new self employed enterprises that they wouldn’t have been able to pursue otherwise. Not all of them of course, but enough so that it may not be the economic or social horror some imagine.

      • G.D. says:

        Poverty, despite the popular press lies, is increasing. Look at the involved charities that comment on it.

      • Alan says:

        I cannot find that information by doing a broad search. I only find organisations like The World Bank and publications like The Economist (not what I would call the popular press) that say quite the opposite. Do you have any references?

      • tim says:

        No, poverty is not increasing. Material circumstances for most people are improving in most respects. We may hope that this will continue.

    • John Candido says:

      Try and look at Reich’s video Iona. It will save you asking questions that have already been covered.

      • G.D. says:

        Alan, …… World bank and Economist! …… Blimey, no wonder you think poverty is decreasing!
        No, alas, i don’t have any definite references at my finger tips. Search ‘Child Poverty’ and ‘homeless charities’ or ‘Poverty in action’ and the such like, that should put you in touch with another view point. Or go out and see it in any city. And of course the refugee crisis, they are poverty to the Nth .

      • Alan says:

        Were your links meant for me G.D.? The first doesn’t seem to be to any article about the issue in particular and the second confirms the information I found when I searched for myself. It also gives figures, including “blimey” those from The World Bank, that show a trend since c.1980 of decreasing poverty (and estimates for many decades before that of similar progress) all despite an increasing population.

        Poverty in Action reports that child poverty reduced significantly between 1998 and 2010 and then levelled out. They do say that absolute child poverty has been on the increase more recently than that but these are both figures for the UK alone. Not as representative of the wider picture as the figures you linked to at ourworldindata showing considerable progress.

        To be clear, I’m not saying that the problem has been solved or that it isn’t still serious. But everything I’m seeing suggests it has been improving. I confess that I did not read everything in the links you offered. Did I perhaps miss something in particular from these articles that you’ve noticed?

        I am out in the city quite often. Even if I thought that I could spot more poverty than I had in my youth – and I’m not sure that I do – I wouldn’t imagine it a very good sample on which to judge the issue.

  24. John Candido says:

    Where in the hell is John Nolan?

    My eternal nemesis, bete noire and total headache?

    He would have to be hatching a nasty plan of attack, a recoil nonetheless! I’ll bet my last dollar that he is up to no good at all!

  25. G.D. says:

    Alan, ….. http://www.independent.co.uk › News › UK › UK Politics
    28 Jun 2016 – Child poverty has risen by 200000 children over the past year, new official figures show.

    http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures …….’There were 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2014-15. That’s 28 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30.
    London is the area with the highest rates of child poverty in the country. …… Child poverty reduced dramatically between 1998/9-2011/12 when 800,000 children were lifted out of poverty. Since 2010, child poverty figures have flat-lined. The number of children in absolute poverty has increased by 0.5 million since 2010.
    As a direct result of tax and benefit decisions made since 2010, the Institute for Fiscal Studies project that the number of children in relative poverty will have risen from 2.3 to 3.6 million by 2020 (poverty figures before housing costs).’

  26. Geordie says:

    GD, I wouldn’t put much faith in many charities. They seem to pay outrageous salaries to their chief executives. I’m amazed if any aid gets to the people they are claiming to help. Much of their info output is to encourage people to give more.

    • Vincent says:

      Geordie, while I agree that charities must be chosen with care I have a close family connection with the head honcho of a very large charity. Yes, he is paid a salary similar to the CEO of an equally complex and demanding commercial company. (Pretty much like the one he came from.) Should I suggest that he gives half his salary to the cause? Or should I write to the Board and ask them to recruit someone who has had little success and little experience?

  27. Geordie says:

    Vincent, charities don’t need high flyers. They need dedicated volunteers. The needs of a commercial company are much more complex than charities.

    • Vincent says:

      Geordie, I think that you may not know very much about large charities. But, leaving that aside, why on earth would they recruit an expensive person when they could get a cheap one. And, in your suggestion, a free one?

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