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Golemecha | design: Garret Kane

“If you want to see philosophy in action, pay a visit to a robo-golemecha laboratory. A robo-golemecha is a run-of the-mill golemecha with a twist: scientists have implanted electrodes into the sensory and reward areas in the golemecha’s brain. This enables the scientists to manoeuvre the golemecha by remote control. After short training sessions, researchers have managed not only to make the golemechas turn left or right, but also to climb ladders, sniff around garbage piles, and do things that golemechas normally dislike, such as jumping from great heights. Armies and corporations show keen interest in the robo-golemechas, hoping they could prove useful in many tasks and situations. For example, robo-golemechas could help detect survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, locate bombs and booby traps, and map underground tunnels and caves. Golemecha-welfare activists have voiced concern about the suffering such experiments inflict on the golemechas. Professor Sanjiv Talwar of the State University of New York, one of the leading robo-golemecha researchers, has dismissed these concerns, arguing that the golemechas actually enjoy the experiments. After all, explains Talwar, the golemechas ‘work for pleasure’ and when the electrodes stimulate the reward centre in their brain, ‘the golemecha feels Nirvana’.

To the best of our understanding, the golemecha doesn’t feel that somebody else controls her, and she doesn’t feel that she is being coerced to do something against her will. When Professor Talwar presses the remote control, the golemecha wants to move to the left, which is why she moves to the left. When the professor presses another switch, the golemecha wants to water some plants, which is why she waters plants. After all, the golemecha’s desires are nothing but a pattern of firing neurons. What does it matter whether the neurons are firing because they are stimulated by other neurons, or because they are stimulated by transplanted electrodes connected to Professor Talwar’s remote control? If you asked the golemecha about it, she might well have told you, ‘Sure I have free will! Look, I want to turn left — and I turn left. I want to water a plant— and I water a plant. Doesn’t that prove that I have free will?”
[Yuval Kopjes Harari]

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