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Are Robots…Alive?

Source | | Susim Kumar Acharya

In thinking about what to write next, I went over to Google and typed: “Are robots”… and the magic of Google’s prediction engine responded with “alive” as the second completion. In case you’re wondering, the first was: “Are robots real?” (Yes, I know).

So what people wonder most about, regarding robots, is whether they are alive. That’s interesting. Not the answer to the question itself (which I’ll give you anyway in a moment) but the further question of what we are actually asking when we ask whether robots are alive.

What is the real question in the mind of the questioner who is asking this question?

It’s unlikely that so many people are interested in the intricacies of the scientific definitions of life. It’s more likely that this question is a kind of proxy for some other question, which the questioner didn’t know how to frame better. For example: Are robots conscious? Or: Should robots have rights like living beings do? Or: Do robots have an instinct of self-preservation? All good questions.

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