Chapter 6 Humans, Animals and Machines

yellow_quotation‘Incredible!’ breathed Arthur, ‘the people … ! The things … ?’ ‘The things,’ said Ford Prefect quietly, ‘are also people.’ ‘The people …’ resumed Arthur, ‘the … other people …’ (Adams, 1980, p. 83).

This chapter (as the first in Part III Rethinking Robots and Communication) was an opportunity to draw out some ideas about perceptions of, and assumptions about, boundaries between humans, animals and machines. It built in particular on the argument in the previous chapter, which identified the importance of trust and respect in working relations between humans and robots collaborating to complete a joint task. The quotation, quite possibly the one that I was most disappointed to lose, sums up the idea that it is better to think about animals and robots as (at least somewhat) like people as opposed to as things. I think that language makes it difficult to articulate the complex boundary relations between different beings, whether they human animals, other animals, plants or machines, and the more I think about it now (more than a year after my book was published) I find myself still struggling to express ideas about a range of beings as agents, while also keeping a clear recognition of the absolute differences between them (where difference is not framed as negative, but rather as of positive value to interrelationships).

Adams, D. (1980) The restaurant at the end of the universe. London: Pan Books.