Erenlai - New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建
New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

Here are testimonies and analyses that explore business ethics, life technology ethics, and environmental ethics - all fields that determine the way we conceive our nature, monitor our social conducts and foresee our future.

全球化的浪潮也捲起一波波對倫理重建的討論。從跨國企業到生命科學,從教育體系到宗教與社會倫理,我們窺見不同區域中的反省力量可能帶來的轉變與啟示!

 

週二, 07 七月 2009

Art&Culture in Taipei County

Positive thinking to develop art and culture in Taipei County.

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週四, 21 五 2009

影評:懷抱尊嚴的秘密生活

劇照提供
《橫山家之味》|原子映象 《東京奏鳴曲》|佳映娛樂
本文為節錄,完整內容請見2009年6月號《人籟》論辨月刊


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《橫山家之味》(歩いても 歩いても)
導演:是枝裕和
出品年份:2008年
台灣上映:2009年4月(原子映象發行)

《東京奏鳴曲》(トウキョウソナタ)
導演:黑澤清
出品年份:2008年
台灣上映:2009年4月(佳映娛樂發行)
----------------------------------------

兩個家庭的故事
近期的日本電影常常採用誇張的表現方式,或瞄準懷舊市場。但《橫山家之味》和《東京奏鳴曲》這兩部電影(以下簡稱《橫山家》與《奏鳴曲》)不僅都自外於上述缺點,而且其細膩巧思,很容易就讓人嗅出作者不凡的企圖心。

《橫山家》跟《奏鳴曲》相隔一個禮拜在台灣上映,剛巧它們的劇情主軸都各自圍繞著一個家庭。


無人知曉的祕密
是枝裕和的《橫山家》處理發生於24小時內的故事,表面上呈現的劇情,是已經成婚的一女、一兒各自帶著家人回到雙親老家,共享一頓午餐;實際上這24小時卻猶如一顆洋蔥,每剝下一片(每隔一段時間),就是一個無人知曉的祕密。直到片末,才讓觀眾驚訝其佈局之巧,實為神工。

《橫山家》的主人翁橫山良多(由阿部寬飾)剛失業不久,妻子(由夏川結衣飾)代他保守這祕密。他的父親橫山恭平(由原田芳雄飾)是位退休已一段時間的醫生,個性不盡通人情。

隨著劇情行進,漸漸地,雖然我們知悉了十五年前,橫山家的大兒子因救人而溺死;但橫山家當下的氣氛,卻跟尊嚴有關。


有關「尊嚴」的反思
橫山良多不願表明現正失業,應該是不願意再激怒父親;但正是其父極為重視的尊嚴觀念,讓這對父子關係持續緊張:父親原冀望長子繼承衣缽,長子過世後,換期待次子學醫繼業──無奈這個次子偏偏走上父親瞧不太起的繪畫之路。

無論如何,《橫山家》的主旨並不在探討失業危機;它是以非常低調的喜趣,包裝「忌日」這個悲劇(因此戲劇主軸是失去親人之悲痛)。

黑澤清的《奏鳴曲》則把失控戲劇的導火線,放在失業(經濟不景氣)上頭。但請注意:黑澤清編導這部電影,主旨不在直搗經濟問題之黃龍;這部電影也不是控訴日本社會的論點引導式影片,而是某種以「尊嚴」為軸的哲學式(倫理學)反思。

別忘記,《奏鳴曲》畢竟是一部虛構的劇情長片,片中有不少情境實為刻意製造,以突顯劇中人物社會地位反差。



更多關於周星星,請看
周星星的電影評論

附加的多媒體:
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週四, 30 四月 2009

冬天的樱桃

摄影/Ayfer Uys
本文亦见于2009年5月号《人籁》月刊


樱桃背后的真相
法国前总理、现任波尔多市长的著名政治人物阿朗·朱贝(Alain Juppé)今年三月刚出版新书,书名颇耐人寻味:《我不再吃冬天的樱桃…》(Je ne mangerai plus de cerises en hiver...)

他从全球化、气候变迁与节能减碳风潮中领悟,享受并非当季或并非邻近田园所生产的水果、蔬菜、花卉,其实意味著漫长的运输旅行,与包括冷藏、保鲜、控制成熟期或开花期等等额外支出,以及不可避免地更多的排碳。

如果不是远程进口,那么这类需求则鼓励温室或某些「不自然的」农业科技生产,同样造成大量的能源浪费与沉重的环境负担。


少吃一口,改变世界
朱贝的思索并不仅止于此。他还注意到这种消费行为,很容易让自己卷入不再有四季区隔、远离乡土、随时沉溺不正常奢华的人造世界里,越陷越深,不但人因此渐渐改变,甚至失去了生命与环境间原本应该有的和谐。既然樱桃在法国是春末夏初的水果,那么他决定,从此「不再吃冬天的樱桃」!

这本有意思的书以及有意思的书名,给了我们两项提醒:

一是我们每日生活的决策不论看起来多么微小,其实都一点一滴地影响这个世界,同时也一点一滴地塑造我们自己。经由我们对喂养肉体食物所做的选择,我们的灵魂也因此改变。

另一则是,理念再怎么伟大,夸夸其谈,如果没有实践,就没有意义。千里之行,始于足下,实践可以也必须从身边寻常琐事做起。反过来说,每一件小事,都能与看起来遥不可及的理想连结,慢慢积累,有一天,人或许真的因此重建朱贝所期待「生命与环境间原本应该有的和谐」。


农场生活、都市清教徒、缓慢科技
经历全球金融风暴之后,朱贝改变了对于「冬天樱桃」的态度,法国另一些观察家更点出,二○○九年以来越来越被重视的核心趋势是农场生活(farm life)、都市清教徒(Metropuritain)与缓慢科技(slow tech)。

简单地说,「农场生活」讲的是「回归自然、亲近土地」,「都市清教徒」强调的是「简单朴实、避免浪费」,而「缓慢科技」则企图呈现「减速徐行,深刻体验」的重要性,都是一些值得鼓励的时代价值。

也许最该自问的是,如果认同相信这些理念与价值,那么该如何在每日生活与寻常琐事里,实践?!

附加的多媒体:
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週二, 28 四月 2009

冬天的櫻桃

攝影/Ayfer Uys
本文亦見於2009年5月號《人籟》月刊


櫻桃背後的真相
法國前總理、現任波爾多市長的著名政治人物阿朗‧朱貝(Alain Juppé)今年三月剛出版新書,書名頗耐人尋味:《我不再吃冬天的櫻桃…》(Je ne mangerai plus de cerises en hiver...)

他從全球化、氣候變遷與節能減碳風潮中領悟,享受並非當季或並非鄰近田園所生產的水果、蔬菜、花卉,其實意味著漫長的運輸旅行,與包括冷藏、保鮮、控制成熟期或開花期等等額外支出,以及不可避免地更多的排碳。

如果不是遠程進口,那麼這類需求則鼓勵溫室或某些「不自然的」農業科技生產,同樣造成大量的能源浪費與沉重的環境負擔。


少吃一口,改變世界
朱貝的思索並不僅止於此。他還注意到這種消費行為,很容易讓自己捲入不再有四季區隔、遠離鄉土、隨時沉溺不正常奢華的人造世界裡,越陷越深,不但人因此漸漸改變,甚至失去了生命與環境間原本應該有的和諧。既然櫻桃在法國是春末夏初的水果,那麼他決定,從此「不再吃冬天的櫻桃」!

這本有意思的書以及有意思的書名,給了我們兩項提醒:

一是我們每日生活的決策不論看起來多麼微小,其實都一點一滴地影響這個世界,同時也一點一滴地塑造我們自己。經由我們對餵養肉體食物所做的選擇,我們的靈魂也因此改變。

另一則是,理念再怎麼偉大,夸夸其談,如果沒有實踐,就沒有意義。千里之行,始於足下,實踐可以也必須從身邊尋常瑣事做起。反過來說,每一件小事,都能與看起來遙不可及的理想連結,慢慢積累,有一天,人或許真的因此重建朱貝所期待「生命與環境間原本應該有的和諧」。


農場生活、都市清教徒、緩慢科技
經歷全球金融風暴之後,朱貝改變了對於「冬天櫻桃」的態度,法國另一些觀察家更點出,二○○九年以來越來越被重視的核心趨勢是農場生活(farm life)、都市清教徒(Metropuritain)與緩慢科技(slow tech)。

簡單地說,「農場生活」講的是「回歸自然、親近土地」,「都市清教徒」強調的是「簡單樸實、避免浪費」,而「緩慢科技」則企圖呈現「減速徐行,深刻體驗」的重要性,都是一些值得鼓勵的時代價值。

也許最該自問的是,如果認同相信這些理念與價值,那麼該如何在每日生活與尋常瑣事裡,實踐?!

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/Tzu-Pao Yang_cherry.jpg{/rokbox}

週一, 27 四月 2009

'Trash-Never-Touch' Program

Ecological and Friendly

The Trash-Never-Touch program is a garbage collection system implemented first in Taipei City in the mid 90s. It is planned to prevent residents from leaving their garbage on the sidewalk or in dumpsters as they have to wait for trucks and throw their trash directly onto them. This measure improved the hygiene of the streets and also encouraged recycling. And it has also an unexpected impact on social relations...
Know more about the ’Trash-Never-Touch’ program

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週四, 23 四月 2009

From Shanghai to Athens

In this article (in French), Benoit Vermander explores the changing nature of the city as a "political laboratory", wondering whether the philosophical ground on which the Greek city was conceived and built is still relevant for framing the nature and mission of contemporary metropolises.
Download here the article (In French)


週三, 18 三月 2009

Imagine a greener Taipei- starting with a fine on joss paper-burning

Burning of joss-papers, make it symbolic but snappy

Atop a hill of a Taiwanese cemetery, graves were laid neatly down the slope resembling miniature houses that overspread in clusters over the hills. The tallest temple that could be seen partially from afar, though admirably built, was sadly immersed in a haze of black smoke that drifted from the nearby cemetery trash cans where numerous families have burnt joss papers for their dead.

Chinese people all over Asia have traditionally burnt fake money in honour of gods, spirits, and their dead relatives for centuries. The burning of funeral takes place during the annual Tomb-sweeping (China, Taiwan) / Hungry Ghost festival (Singapore), and those not in mourning burn paper all throughout the year at temples and outside their houses for gods and spirits. A funerary/worship ritual that leaves a hazy black trail, no matter on how small a scale, is neither conducive for the environment nor fruitful for our generation. In an act of honouring the dead or the gods, we are adding onto the pollution of an already severely polluted Earth that would be home to our descendants to come. The ritual behind this act is at the times to reassure ourselves that our beloved dead would receive the money in their afterlife, and others to appease the different gods and spirits in Buddhism/Taoism/folklore beliefs, which is all very well until our actions no longer evolve with the times – and in times like these, we are talking about the deleterious effects on the health of people living in an environment with a widespread and long lasting air pollution. As Taiwan moves towards a consumer-oriented society, people have been offering more luxury items such as paper televisions, cars and mobile phones. Outside enterprises in alleyways, trash bins designed particularly for joss-paper burning will be found in full activity on at least two days of the month, resulting in smoke, soot and litter. The smoke never fails to get to me. There’s an acrid chemical odour to the fumes that surely cannot be good when ones breathes that into their body.

It is understandable that, in taking a more moderated stand, one should be free to practice whatever customs within acceptable social norms. To appease the dead and the living, I would not attempt to call for a complete ban on burning hell-notes which could be a recipe for disaster, and rather opt for reduction of the numbers (piles rather) of paper burnt. One could increase the value of a single “money-note” burnt and in doing so limit the numbers of notes required, design better bins to capture the smoke and debris, impose fines on joss-paper burning in residential and public areas, and most importantly, engage the public on the issue – which one has yet to see in the bustling city of Taipei.

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週六, 27 十二月 2008

Chinese Investors in Swaziland

The Chinese are the largest group of foreign investors in my country, and their numbers continue to grow today. They open numerous textile factories in my country and employ many Swazi people to work for them. My government has always welcomed Chinese investors to come to Swaziland as these companies provide many job opportunities for the Swazi people. People who work in the Textile companies are made up of either single mothers or high school drop-outs. This was a good opportunity for them to support themselves.

I had a relative who once worked at one of the textile companies near my home in Swaziland. She has told me much about her experience working with Chinese people, and it was often negative. She recalls working long hours and receiving little pay. Employees were searched every time they entered factory in order to make sure they hadn’t stolen anything. They were also not excused from work even if they were gravely ill; the boss wouldn’t accept any absences from work. She quit the job after a few months because she found it too tough working for the Chinese. “They seem to be only worried about their productions. Never their employee’s health”, she said.

I personally feel that the existence of Chinese investors is a good thing for my countrymen as it provides the much-demanded work opportunities that would help our economy in the future. However working for Chinese people is very tough. I have lived in Taiwan for eight years now and I know how hard it is to communicate with the people and adapt to the Chinese culture. To be African and to live in Taiwan is an exceptional experience that has aided me in solving many of the misconceptions that Africans often have for the Chinese. Our differences are great and despite disagreeing with the many things they do, I have decided to accept it and hope that they too will adapt and respect our cultures whilst in Swaziland.


週二, 09 十二月 2008

What's the matter with a head on a platter?

There is one very interesting event mentioned in the gospels that highlights the ruthless power of royalty in those days and the disregard of human rights. I am referring to the execution of John the Baptist.

It was a general policy of the Romans when they conquered a new territory to clone some little Romes for resident expatriate Romans and local romanizers, leaving the local religious, political and social structures in place so long as they accepted the dominance of Rome. The key to their survival was subservience. So long as Rome got their respect and its cut of their profits the local people were free to run their enterprises their traditional ways. That is why the Jewish religious authorities persecuted Jesus because they saw in him and his followers a threat to their carefully protected privileged status with the Romans. That is why Herod Antipas, son of King Herod the Great, still had all the prerequisites of a king with territory, royal court and treasury, though Rome gave him the official title of Tetrarch not King, since he was ruler of only one of the four sections of his father’s former Kingdom. So long as he did not interfere with or oppose the Roman presence, he could continue the façade of appearing to rule.

Herod like his father before him had few moral scruples. It is as though he never saw in his royal status any mandate to uplift his subjects, only a license to take whatever he could for himself and his cronies. Herod fell in love with his niece Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip. Before that she had been married to Herod II Boethus, another uncle. John the Baptist was very vocal in condemning their subsequent marriage as contrary to Jewish law and tradition. Herod had him arrested, but was reluctant to execute him since he seemed to derive some consolation from their conversations in prison, much to the disgust of Herodias who wanted to silence once and for all the Baptist’s accusing tongue.

Every year on Herod’s birthday all the important people in his territory were invited to a big banquet. Present were all the Tetrarch’s closest friends, all the local and Roman authorities, the merchants and landowners who depended on the royal business and all those whose support and loyalty had to be bought and safeguarded. There was also lavish entertainment, the highlight of which was some marvelous dances performed by Salome, the daughter of Herodias. By this time, the wine must have been flowing abundantly, dulling the tetrarch’s mind and heightening his pleasure. So moved was he by the performance he made a solemn promise to grant Salome anything she desired, even if it was half his territory.

The girl was bright enough to know that this was a great opportunity and wisely consulted first with her mother. There is no doubt about what Herodias wanted: the head of John on a platter. The gospel narrative tells us very clearly that Herod was reluctant to carry out the execution, but finally bowed to the argument that he could not go back on his word, so Salome got the head on the platter which she gave her mother. So strong the bond between mother and daughter she was willing to give up whatever gold or power she was promised and come out with nothing for herself. Did she ever regret missing the opportunity of a lifetime, just so her mother could exact her revenge?

There is no record that anyone at that party objected to what happened, but I think we can be quite certain that the arrival of the head on a platter spelled the end of party gaiety bringing a gloom that sent the guests away as quickly as possible.

It is probably not fair to judge those people on the basis of today’s moral standards. Herod was just exercising an authority that nobody questioned. Did his reluctance to carry out the murder come from a moral doubt of whether it was right or wrong or just reluctance to lose a friend? Did Herodias have any feeling of guilt about running off with her uncle or killing John? One can probably count out Herod’s friends for any disapproval though some of them might have thought the timing was not right or they resented the hold that Herodias seemed to have over Herod. Some of those who only paid lip service to Herod for the sake of their own benefit must have been appalled at the crime, but no one stood up in defense of John. Objections there must have been back in the privacy of their own homes with no danger of being overheard, but no one dared to point out the fallacy in Herod’s reasoning. Had we been there would we have spoken up to point out that as a benevolent ruler, his oath would have implied only some personal benefit to Salome, not the murder of some enemy of her mother. Seeing the obvious dismay of Herod at the girl’s request would we have risked incurring the displeasure of Herodias by coming to his aid? Would we have disagreed with the violation of John’s rights, of the execution without trial, the vengeful jealousy of Herodias or seconded John’s condemnation of the marriage of Herod and Herodias? However much we may doubt the sincerity of Herodias or question her motivation for aligning herself with Herod, she did show loyalty and affection for him a few years later by freely choosing to give up her wealth and comfort to accompany Herod into exile in France when he fell into disfavor with the Romans.

It is easy with hindsight, modern codes of moral conduct and imagination to place ourselves in ancient situations where we would courageously make the “right” decisions and purge from the history books the sad consequences of evil decisions. Shouldn’t it be just as easy with foresight and the same modern codes of moral conduct to courageously prevent the potential consequences of present day evil intentions?

Well, at least today there are voices of warning and protest in public demonstrations, publications, special organizations and internet blogs, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to change or rectitude. Today just as in ancient times too often “might makes right”. The exercise of power and preservations of personal advantage often drown out whatever voices of conscience there might be.

Now is the time for those who do not believe this is the way things should be to make their voices heard.


Picture: Caravaggio, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

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週六, 29 十一月 2008

社會的心靈環保

這本書不只是一對表兄妹追尋祖源的故事,也是窺見台灣多元文化的一扇窗。

凌氤寶 撰文

日前,文向教育基金會與《人籟》攜手合辦「台灣文化VS.全球暖化」國際研討會,相關環境變遷價值理念的探索開闊了我們的視野,每位「生命永續獎」的得主尤其令人由衷佩服;此一重大獎項的頒發意義非凡,「文向」能支持這樣的活動亦深感榮幸。傾聽這些得獎人分享動人的故事,使我們的信心更加堅定:環保、文化的最基本問題與解決方法就在心靈發展上。
「心靈環保」是造就健全社會的要素,因為它是環境生態的根本價值觀,因為它關注生命與生命之間的和諧關係。活躍的歷史記憶則是團體心靈健康的關鍵所在;在聆聽長輩們細述回憶及族群歷史的同時,我們更清楚地看見部份的自我,延續先人的足跡行走,我們更明白自己與下一代應該往哪裡去。
《第五天海水漲起來》是田野研究作品,以文字、圖畫和影像紀錄了一段發生在花蓮縣復興鄉太巴塱部落的尋根故事。阿美族人世居花東縱谷及海岸狹長地區,他們的歷史傳說、歌謠與祭典皆展現著台灣的多元文化之美。
在台灣,「多元文化」、「相對價值」等詞語雖人盡皆知,卻似乎成為口號。認識和理解異於己身的文化才是人與人之間相互尊重、和平共存的基礎,不過能夠真正在日常生活以及人與人的接觸之中做到實踐誠屬不易。而《第五天海水漲起來》這本書不只是一對表兄妹追尋祖源的故事,也是窺見台灣多元文化的另一扇窗。相信透過這些故事,我們可以清楚看見不同文化的匯聚、融合與再生,以及它落實在人群生活中的真實樣貌。
「回家」是這部作品的主要意向。藉著它,「家」的意涵也得以擴大、提升,成為一種對人與人、人與土地和諧共生的渴盼。基於如此的信念,文向教育基金與《人籟》共同合作,希望生活在這片土地上的所有團體及每一個人,皆能找到生命中的平衡與健康。謹以這部作品與您分享「回家」的感受,也期待在未來的日子裡,我們能集結更多夥伴,共同走出一條希望的大道。
-------------------------------

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/Tafalong_wenxiang.jpg{/rokbox}

週五, 21 十一月 2008

Robots and Humans

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/slideshow_en.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}

週五, 21 十一月 2008

Robots and Humans

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/slideshow_en.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}
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