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by Jan Sand
2006-12-03 12:21:23
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If you submit the word “biot “ to Google you will get a huge range of sites from a nineteenth century French gliding pioneer to a mountain to several scientific societies to a place in France and on from there. I didn’t see any reference to Arthur C. Clarke who used the term in his novel Rendezvous with Rama, which describes an encounter with an alien spaceship passing through our solar system on an orbit bringing it close to our Sun to replenish its energy stores. It is Clarke’s appropriation of the term that interests me.

The alien spaceship traveled in a dormant state in-between encounters with stars but as it approached our Sun it awake and many of its potential capabilities became active. Very quickly it produced independent dynamic components that were robotic caretakers to clean and maintain its structure for the next dormant trip to another star. These small maintenance robots were grown and were essentially organic, hence the name biological robots or biots.

Although the term “robot” originally appeared in the play R.U.R. by Czech author Karel Capek and meant merely “worker” and these robots were organic in construction, the term subsequently was used to describe metal mechanical men. One of the earliest real robots was presented at the 1939 New York World’s Fair where I saw it at the Westinghouse exhibition. It was a huge clumsy metal humanoid whose only capability was to roll forward and raise one arm and click its fingers and count to five. Since electronics was in a very primitive stage at the time this was considered a worthy accomplishment.

Science fiction had already visualized various robots and labeled those whose appearance looked human as androids. Capek’s robots were organic androids. Philip Dick in his story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was subsequently made into the film Blade Runner, described organic androids that were designed to live only four years to protect humanity from their superior capabilities. But Isaac Asimov’s robots were essentially mechanical people with a “positronic” brain.

His robot detective, R. Daneel Olivaw appears in several stories and was immortal since he could be repaired and updated. He, also, became intellectually superior to humans. The Cyborg is again different in being a being composed of a mélange of both organic and mechanical parts. Anybody with false teeth or even metal fillings might be considered a borderline cyborg. For current events in these matters click here to visit an interesting website.

But all of the synthetic humans were endowed with the general characteristics of humans to the limits of their creator’s capabilities. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster crudely stitched together from several parts of deceased humans was probably the first of these although the Golem produced by magic and the dragon’s teeth out of Greek myth sowed by Cadmus and Jason might qualify. The robot boy in the recent film AI and the intelligent mechanical man in The Millennium Man both aspired to become totally human in the manner of Pinocchio and finally did so.

But the biot is a slightly different concept. It is a robot that can be grown like any animal but genetically programmed and not necessarily humanoid in structure or mental capability. Since they can be made as sophisticated or simple as their designers prefer, none of the normal moral considerations involved in aware humanoids might be considered in their use or misuse.

Animals created out of evolutionary processes must, for their continued existence and reproductive capability, create a nervous system or the equivalent which has the elements of awareness which gives moral pause to those who would utilize them to their destruction. Biological creations need not possess any more than those qualities that maintain their dynamics and perform the function for which they were designed.

If they are destroyed or discarded the emotional attitude need be no more concerned than that which is involved with throwing away a worn out tire or scraping an old automobile. It is conceivable that a biot could mimic a human being to a physical and limited psychological extent with drives appropriate to their design and these designs could encompass workers, soldiers, sexual objects and whatever might be entertaining or useful in society.

The fact that these machines could be grown means that properly designed biots could be shipped to another planet as seeds or as something that could produce seeds that would grow biots out of local materials to prepare habitats for humans who would follow when the sequestered environments were properly prepared.

Since they are organic, these machines would be subject to random changes in their genetics from radiation and chemical mistakes just as evolved animals have changed so some rather odd things may occur, some, perhaps, dangerous. In any event, the future looks quite interesting, assuming we survive.

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