This week we looked at fractals, artificial life, and robotics. Something that really stuck out to me was fractal art as well as the appearances of fractals in nature. I find fractals to be very beautiful, and the fact that their formation is more often natural than deliberate, makes it all the more fascinating. It’s intriguing how plants, shells, solid formations, etc. show how complex patterns can be visible on all scales.
For this week I decided to create a hypothetical based on a-life, robots, considering human ethics in a dangerous context.
You live in a future in which robots are very human-like. They have been assimilated into human society, and many of these robots act similarly to humans. In fact, if their appearance was more human-like, you would have a hard time telling that they were artificially created.
You happen to be a railroad worker, and you have three coworkers. Two of them, Bob and Joe, are human and the other is robotic. The two workers who are human are total jerks. They often slack off, they have ugly personalities, and you somewhat feel as if their existence is a waste of oxygen.
The individual who you are most fond of is the robot. The robot’s name is Roberto and he’s a hard worker, very friendly, and oxygen-efficient. You grow close to Roberto over the course of two months. During your taxing duties, you two talk about subjects that go beyond work, and you feel legitimate connection to this robot. You would consider him your friend. Roberto’s system memory remembers your connection and he also sees you as a friend.
One day, during a heated day of construction, a train takes the wrong path and is headed towards the area where work on the track is taking place. Bob and Joe are currently on track to being run over by the train, but they are too busy listening to music to notice. It looks like they are about to die. You and Roberto, on the other hand, are on a bridge ahead of Bob and Joe, and the train will pass below you before it comes into contact with them.
Roberto informs you that if you push him onto the tracks, it will save the lives of Bob and Joe by stopping the train in its tracks. However, it will also lead to his destruction. Roberto is no longer the same robot as he was when he was first produced. He has gained memories and experiences from working alongside you, and if another Roberto were produced to replace him, he would not be the same individual that you grew fond of.
But his sacrifice would save human life, which you can argue as being more unique and less replaceable than a machine.
You have 10 seconds to consider your actions. What is the morally correct action: pushing Roberto onto the tracks, or seeing Bob and Joe get mauled by the train?
This question is inspired by a question by Philippa Foot called “The Trolley Problem.”