08 Oct 2016 19:47 IST

When robots rule the roost

What will happen to the red of my blood and the salinity of my sweat?

Every now and then, my colleague Jinoy materialises before me and recounts with great delight the latest adventures — more like misadventures — from his wonderland of techno-geekery. It’s news and views that set his heart racing. My heart instantaneously sinks.

Long ago, I had read a short story by Rana Dasgupta in the collection, Tokyo Cancelled, in which a man is shown to have an affair with a human-size robot-doll. It was sad and it was eerie. Recently, there’s been much talk and more gawking over a robot being tried-hired (trhired ?!) as a receptionist.

Some years ago, Tomagotchis ruled over children. They were keychain-sized handheld digital devices, designated pets that needed to be kissed and coddled or they’d curl up and die. They were so small, they fitted into the palm of your hand. Or at any rate, the egg it materialised on its screen, and hatched, had to be loved and cuddled.

I knew this one firsthand because my son had a Tomagotchi, gifted to him with a devilish cackle by an evil cousin (my cousin, an adult). How I rejoiced the day it stopped ‘being alive’ and ‘needing to be loved’! Robots bartend on the Quantum of the Seas, a cruise ship (I’ve seen photographs), and it’s said they’d make good soldiers (yay RIP!).

A few months ago, hiding his grins behind a mask of deep concern, Jinoy assured me that I needn’t be confused anymore about my emotions because robots, accessing their highly developed — literally — levels of artificial intelligence, would tell me how I was feeling, or even how I should be feeling. Excuse me, I don’t need them to tell me, I know!

I’m in touch with my emotions. I experience them, dammit! I hopped and hawed with indignation. I certainly do not want robots stamping on my heart and ruling my mind, I railed. The remote’s as far as I will stretch to hold a robot’s hand — and that’s a stretch too far, frankly, I ranted.

Hey, write positive things, okay, Jinoy shouted across the work bays when I asked him to clarify exactly what he said they could do. Actually, I remembered, but I didn’t want to remember, know what I mean? Or maybe it was too weird to want to remember.

Well, the only positive thing I can think of saying at this point is that the idea’s got me thinking. It’s got me thinking that if I’m not alert, my mind will be shut down; my thoughts will be wired through robotic energies to my mouth and words uttered under heavy-duty censorship. It got me thinking that my thoughts and my voice will no longer be me. ‘I’, for all practical purposes, will be dead. Only my unknown dread will exist… until that too melts away sometime.

The prospect of that ‘sometime’ grips my imagination, bends my consciousness and knocks my logical brain right out of the universe. There’s nothing left but to mourn that future loss the world is hurtling to embrace. I lament the impending detachment from human foibles and inanities for surely, robots will be primed to perform to perfection — repetitive, punctual, no lunch breaks, precise, untiring, silent… On the other hand, you and I, on the opposite end of this spectrum, will no longer be necessary. We will be rendered unemployed and inconsequential.

Humanity will be neutralised.

Cogito ergo sum, said the philosopher Rene Descartes. I think, therefore I am. It follows that when I cease to think, I shall cease to be. Basically, no cogito, no sum. Quod erat demonstrandum. In other words, QED. Clearly, it’s a horror that can be comprehended only in Latin. In further other words, it is incomprehensible.

If I agonise over what-much of my ‘self’ will remain, it would be a worry misplaced because there will be nobody to care if anything remains. Nobody will cogito, therefore nobody will be in sum. So why should I care that there will be no more sweat and tears?

I won’t be there to notice that any wars that are fought are bloodless. (That’s good.) The salt evaporating from residual living sweat and tears will rise as mountainous objectors in the path of marauding robotic armies and short them into non-existence. (Not so good, maybe?)

Soon, salt mountains will yield to mountains of e-waste rising on intestinal wires and circuit boards of technicae, when their clicking and clacking synchronised sensors, effectors and control systems syncopate into screechy silence too terrible to envision.

Still, I won’t be there. Nor you. But mind it, the day’s not all that far away. Consider how long man has existed — about 200,000 years. Yet, it seems just yesterday that dinosaurs roamed and the land masses were almost all one. Time flies. It fits in a book. We know that. 2016 is nearly done.

I wonder, though, when the day comes that sees the last human exit this earth and robotic and other generations overrun our playing fields and waters, no matter how pollution and abused, will they remember us? Will someone, somebot, know that we existed? Or will they think they are the first and go about the business of occupying every square inch of our blue planet with the authority that homo and other sapiens displayed?

I wonder and I weep. I do not want to be forgotten.

My question then, emerging from the depths of weeping, is this: Who will harvest the salt of my memories?


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