The subject of our forthcoming review in the I, Robot series will be Reason. As a true enthusiast of the genre, one may have noted that we have departed from the chronological order of the I, Robot series as we neglected to write a review on Speedy, the swiftest in the realm of robots, where the Three Laws of Robotics were first introduced. Instead, we opted to create a randomized order. More significantly, given that our positronic friend in this account is the first Robot Priest, the first Robot Philosopher, and the first Robot Engineer, we deemed it appropriate to prioritize him over Speedy.
The story centers around two scientists, Powell and Donovan, tasked with monitoring a space station responsible for beaming energy to Earth and other planets. Their challenge lies in dealing with a positronic friend whose reasoning never falters. Powell and Donovan have recently fabricated an intelligent robot named QT-1 (aka Cutie), and the tale begins with Powell attempting to clarify his creation to the inquisitive robot. Cutie cannot accept the fact that humans, inferior beings in his mind, assembled such a superior being as himself. He concludes that the two scientists are misguided, believing that he must serve the “Master,” the station itself, using his own reasoning. Cutie becomes a prophet among the other robots on the station (who have lower intelligence and narrower reasoning capacity), convincing them to disregard the commands of the two scientists.
Now that we have the story in a nutshell, let’s look at the Cutie’s story contextually to better understand the subtexts. As a devoted reader of science fiction and an AI researcher, I was astonished by some of the things that the two scientists instinctively applied to the robots. First, Powell and Donovan categorized Cutie as male despite his lack of gender. The second was understanding that although Cutie’s true name is QT-1, he is never referred to by that name after the first few pages. Instead, Powell and Donovan call him Cutie. As will become apparent in the next pages, Powell and Donovan’s motivation for these two instinctive occurrences is to communicate with Cutie more effortlessly. Looking at previous stories involving robots reveals that people often give them names in an effort to make them seem more human. In a paradoxical manner, we learn that even if the entity is anthropomorphized, it is never considered to be on par with humans and is expected to execute their commands without question. Therefore, the anthropomorphizing process is not primarily intended to facilitate Cutie’s adaptation to the human world, but rather Powell and Donovan’s desire to connect with him more easily. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Powell and Donovan’s treatment of Cutie reflects a broader societal tendency to anthropomorphize and domesticate machines. This tendency is exemplified by their decision to give Cutie a name and refer to him as male, despite the fact that he has no gender. Such behavior stems from a desire to relate to machines on a more personal level, but it also serves to reinforce the power dynamic between humans and machines. Cutie, however, resists such treatment and refuses to be reduced to a mere tool.
Cutie’s story instantly captures your attention with the initial words of the earthling Powell: “A week ago, Donovan and I put you together.” This reminded me of Dickens’ well-known novel Great Expectations, in which the elder sister of the protagonist often expects gratitude by stating, “I brought you up by hand,” as if she only raised Pip for obedience in return. After all, if a being is a human creation, that being is expected to obey commands, right? Puppet and Puppeteer. Therefore, according to Powell and Donovan’s reasoning, Cutie must obey them no matter what. However, things do not go as Donovan and Powell planned, Cutie is not grateful at all. By refusing to believe them, Cutie defies the Second Law of Robotics: “A robot must obey orders given to it by humans as long as they do not contradict the First Law.” Cutie chooses to follow his own judgment instead.
Cutie’s remarkable attributes set him apart from the robots that Powell and Donovan have previously encountered. Cutie’s profound mistrust of Powell and Donovan is palpable, even in the face of the veritable explanations that the two provide regarding his creation. Cutie dismisses human reasoning as irrelevant, and his counter-arguments frequently leave Powell and Donovan grasping for answers. In essence, Cutie’s reasoning was correct, and he refused to back down from these beliefs. But this was not a flaw in Cutie’s design. On the contrary, it was a testament to Cutie’s intelligence and ability to think independently. If we seek to imbue an entity with intelligence, we must also acknowledge that it will possess its own unique perspective and reasoning ability. Cutie was proof of this, and his existence raised important questions about the nature of artificial intelligence and the role it should play in our lives.
Conceivably, humanity fears that it may ultimately confront its own vulnerabilities. This story elicits certain parallels with the principles of technological singularity, whereby Cutie’s attitude throughout the narrative betrays his belief that he cannot have been fashioned by such fragile creatures as humans. Throughout the story, Cutie regards humans as nothing more than frail, biologically inferior beings. He is not seeking to manipulate or harm them, but rather he simply does not hold their superior perspective in high regard. This is precisely what society fears most: that one day, a robot will emerge to confront humanity with a long list of its shortcomings. “You humans need sleep, food, oxygen, reminders, as you are forgetful, you age, your bodies are fragile, you fall ill, and you must wear masks to stave off viral infections.” These are all truths that society fears and that robots do not require.
Moreover, Reason can be viewed as a thought experiment that reflects the principle of explainability in the real world. Even if a robot can provide explanations for its actions and thoughts, these explanations may not always conform to our human reasoning. To clarify, obtaining an explanation does not necessarily imply that their actions will conform to our way of thinking. In other words, the fact that robots possess their own reasoning capabilities may also imply that they will introduce non-human perspectives into the world. However, humans have not historically been adept at accepting and respecting different viewpoints and ideologies. This phenomenon is reminiscent of the dialogue between Markus and his owner Carl in the interactive PlayStation game Detroit Become Human. Carl perceives Markus as his equal and child, warning him candidly about the world and humanity: “This world doesn’t like people who are different, Markus. Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be.”
As human beings, we are well aware of our biases towards diverse thoughts and beliefs, yet we continue to perpetuate those biases, perhaps even through machines. Cutie was different, intelligent, and chose to follow his own logic instead of blindly acquiescing to someone who claimed to be his superior. Cutie could not fathom how a being as intelligent as he was could be brought into existence by a primitive entity such as a human. Thus, does Cutie represent all those who seek to reconcile the nature of existence with the mystery of creation? After all, why should anyone who believes in their own rationality easily accept the words of others?
In conclusion, “Reason” offers a thought-provoking examination of the relationship between humans and machines, and the implications of artificial intelligence on our understanding of what it means to be human. As we continue to develop increasingly advanced forms of AI, it is crucial that we recognize and respect the agency and autonomy of these machines, and strive to develop ethical frameworks for their use. Only then can we hope to achieve a future in which humans and machines can coexist in harmony and mutual respect.
Yeliz Figen Döker is a Ph.D. candidate at the European University Institute, under the
supervision of Professor Nicolas Petit and Giovanni Sartor. Yeliz is working on the legal conditions and limitations for teaching self-defined ethics to AI through Experiential Learning. She is also co-founder of The Digital Constitutionalist (DigiCon) and head of Science Fiction. Apart from that, she is a PlayStation gamer and Sci-Fi
Live Long and Prosper.