What Makes Us Human?

Is it our vulnerability, kindness, unpredictability?  Or is it our creativity and invention? Or perhaps, looking back sadly on human history, it is our immense proclivity for destruction and deceit?

Artificial intelligence is no longer a concept confined to science fiction novels.  We have self-drive cars, phones that talk and robotic vacuum cleaners.  A.I. is real and among us in the here and now.  It is a challenge to our previous ideas about humanity.  Are we really so special and superior after all?  Is Artificial Intelligence something we should welcome or fear?  Will it make us more or less human by comparison?

Alex Garland’s stunning 2015 film Ex Machina explored these questions and inspired me to write this poem:-

 

ROBO-MOW

Alan dreams 256 shades of green, hibernating
in his glass docking pod at the bottom of the garden.
Self-starting at sunrise, his solar panels slowly energize.
Recharged and updated with new kinds of seed,
66 brands of feed and non-toxic weed killers
plus the latest on invasive alien species.

Alan zips up his latex happy face
(with questioning eyebrows and a real pipe)
and his T-shirt declares ‘I love life’ (in bold font) for the Master.
After the BBC weather forecast, he initiates maintenance checks,
self-lubricates his cylinder, sharpens blades, tops up levels.
His friend, the virtual robin observes from a perch by the electric fence.

Alan has the same old routine every day,
downloading music while he works
(Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home on repeat).
Perfect, straight lines along the wire perimeter,
perfect stripes overlapping by a centimeter, working left to right,
raking, aerating, weeding, feeding as he goes,

forming perfect crisp edges around the lily pond.
Sometimes he hopes for showers so he can count
raindrops falling into the water, watch his reflection crumble,
ripple into concentric circles.  Chaotic patterns
stir the surface calm, bubbles rise from the carp beneath,
flickering gold in the shadows.

 

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Note 1:- another excellent recent film about Artificial Intelligence, personality, ageing and memory is Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda.  Click below for The Guardian Review.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/15/marjorie-prime-review-lois-smith-jon-hamm?CMP=share_btn_link