on Mar 31, 2016
Note that this season is getting kind of verbally graphic, with jokes about sex and body parts. I think it comes with the territory. Yes, we make immature jokes about robo-dicks, but those jokes stem from the ongoing mysteries of what robo-life would be like.
Anyway, it gets slightly… raunchy. I guess? Honestly, I don’t know what the standards are these days who who taught Rutskarn all those words. Adjust your viewing habits accordingly.
To articulate the point I was making in the episode in a more coherent way:
Let’s say we’re going to build a robot to hold a digital copy of someone’s brain. Are we just copying neuron activity? Because a lot of our personality and behavior is driven by the output of the testes, ovaries, thyroid, pancreas, and other hormone factories. If we don’t include and simulate their activity, then we’ll be missing a big part of what defines the subject and shapes their personality.
Let’s subtract the robot from the equation and pretend we have two flesh-and-blood copies of me:
- Copy One has my personality, skills, behaviors, moods, habits, and preferences. But none of my life memories.
- Copy Two remembers my life just as well as I do, but it has a different personality. He’s gregarious, impulsive, and flirtatious. He’s into risks and talks trash to his rivals. He’s into NASCAR. He’s lazy.
Personally, I would think of Copy One as being “me”, and would think of Copy Two as “someone else”.
What if we made a robo copy of Alton Brown that has no appreciation for food, no sense of smell, no sense of taste, and never feels hungry?
Assuming we do have the ability to somehow scan the various glands in the bodyThere are a lot more than the ones I just mentioned, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how their terrifyingly complex chemistry drives brain activity. But for the purposes of this discussion, we can just hand-wave it and say the people of the future have figured it all out. and meaningfully simulate their behavior… do we want to? Do we add a button – as Rutskarn jokingly suggested – that satisfies needs? If I had a button that simulated eating Cheetos, I’d probably push it obsessively all day, even if I never felt hungry or full, because I can totally eat junk food when I’m not hungry, and the only reason I stop is because I get the warning from my body that I’m getting over-full. (Or maybe I come to my senses and worry about getting fat, which is obviously not a concern for a robot with a Cheetos button.)
Stress is caused by the release of stress hormones. You feel it in your body in the form of clenched jaw, poor sleep, elevated heart rate, nail-biting, overeating / loss of appetite, bad moods, and a dozen other effects. We think of stress as bad – and it often is – but stress also drives behavior. A very mild level of anxiety or stress is what makes me work so hard on this site. Am I doing the best I can? Will people like this content? Can it be improved? With no stress at all, I’d just sit around and play videogames all day. A fixed level of low stress might make for a very productive – but very boring – me. Who makes the decision about how much stress robo-Shamus experiences?
But the big problem is the social stuff. I know that our desire to socialize is driven by hormones, because changes in hormones will impact your social behavior. With the right mix, you wind up in a mood where you can’t shut up, or can’t stand to be alone. A different mix, and being alone is all you want. Now add in your individual propensity to flirt, complain, criticize, joke, shout, gossip, sing, think out loud, or say encouraging things. Can you simulate that stuff? Do you want to? Should you? Some of those are negative behaviors, some are positive, and they’re all interconnected.
A lot of our joy in life comes from meeting these physical and psychological needs. If you remove them, you remove the things that give us joy. (And often the things that make us creative and motivated.) But if you simulate them, then you have a robot that has to take care of list of simulated desires. If meeting needs is hard, then the robot might suffer, which… isn’t that exactly the sort of thing you were trying to avoid when you put a brain in a robo-body? And if meeting needs is easy, then what’s to stop the robot from just holding down the orgasm button all day?
Note that I’m not saying SOMA is bad for not explaining this stuff. SOMA begins by asking questions, and I can’t help but respond with questions of my own. Either way, I love that SOMA started the conversation.
 There are a lot more than the ones I just mentioned, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how their terrifyingly complex chemistry drives brain activity. But for the purposes of this discussion, we can just hand-wave it and say the people of the future have figured it all out.