According to “Blade Runner,” in 2019…

Replicant robots will have become so well made, that they will be indistinguishable from humans. The reason we think of robots as mechanical people with personalities is that historically they have been portrayed this way in entertainment media.

From Data on “Star Trek” to C-3PO in “Star Wars” to Twiggy in “Buck Rogers,” robots are wise-cracking sidekicks and sage philosophers reflecting on “the human condition” – whatever that means. In this regard, they are little different than talking dogs in cartoons. Because we have so much experience with real dogs, seeing Scooby-Doo doesn’t change our expectations of the behavior of dogs. But what if dogs didn’t exist and your only experience with them was watching Scooby-Doo? Your natural expectation would be to expect them to talk, at least as well as Scooby does. When you imagined dogs being “invented” in the future, you would naturally imagine having conversations with them. It is altogether possible that many people today would want to have conversations with their dogs (but probably not smart-aleck wise-cracking dogs – who needs that?) mainly because they regard their dogs as sentient. But I know of no one who would want to have a conversation with a computer program pretending to be his dog. Maybe for novelty value, sure, but in terms of wanting to converse with robots at an emotional level, I just don’t see it. Let’s do a thought experiment about this.

You know how when you call an airline or a cell phone company and the automated voice system tells you to speak your question and it will try to answer it? Pretend the automated voice system is perfect. It says, “Hi, this is the computer, please speak your question.” Pretend it has perfect inflection, it can make small talk, it asks you about the weather, is polite, and giggles at your jokes. Would you care? Would you want that? No. I might enjoy witty banter with a real person I will never meet, talking to me from a distant state, but that is because I would be sharing the experience with another human being and human beings form connections with other human beings. I’m not about to waste my best material on a machine! A stranger? Sure! And no matter how convincing the machine is, once I know it is a machine, I won’t care about it anymore.

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