Asimov on Robots & Organisms

Asimov’s thoughts on the differences between robots and organisms & problems of cybernetic organisms.

“A robot is a robot and an organism is an organism. An organism, as we all know, is built up of cells. […] A robot, on the other hand, is (as usually pictured in science fiction) an object, more or less resembling a human being, constructed out of strong, rust-resistant metal.” (p. 463)

“But now let us try to imgine something that is neither organism nor robot, but a combination of the two. Perhaps we can think of it as an organism-robot or “orbot. […] The science of computers was given the name “cybernetics” by Norbert Wiener a generation ago, so that if we consider something that is part robot and part organism and remember that a robot is cybernetic in nature, we might think of the mixture as a “cybernetic organism,” or “cyborg.” In fact, that is the name that has stuck and is used.” (p. 464)

“[I]f there is one thing that makes us human it is the brain. If there is one thing tht makes us a human individual, it is the intensely complex makeup, the emotions, the learning, the memory content of our particular brain. […] It is the brain, then, that is the sticking point in going from human to robot […] Therefore, we come down to the dichotomy, body and brain. The ultimate cyborgs are those in which the body and brain don’t match. Tha means we can have two classes of complete cyborgs: a) a robotic brain in a human body, or b) a human brain in a robotic body.” (p. 465-466)

“What I m saying, then, is that a cyborg with a robotic brain in a humn body is going to be accepted by most, if not all, people as a human being; while a cyborg with a human brain in a robotic body is going to be accepted by most, if not all, as a robot. You are, after all – at least to most people – what you seem to be […] We know that people who have human brains and full human bodies sometimes hate each other because of a slight difference in skin pigmentation, or a slight variation in the shape of the nose, eyes, lips, or hair. We know that people who show no difference in any of physical characteristics that have come to represent a cause for hatred, may yet be at daggers-dawn over matters  that are not physical at all, but cultural difference in religion, or in political outlook, or in place of birth, or in language, or in just the accent of language. Let’s face it. Cyborg will have their difficulties, no matter what.” (p. 467 – 469)

Asimov, I. (1991). ‘Cybernetic Organism,’ copyright by Nightfall (1987), appeared in Robot Visions, New York: Penguin Books.

This manga movie ‘Cyborg 009’ – created by Shotaro Ishinomori in 1966 – illustrates the popular science-fiction fantasy of the cyborg.


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