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  • Writer's pictureRoger Tirazona

Terminator VS Astro Boy: How our childhood stories shape our relationship with A.I.

In an era increasingly influenced by technology, our childhood stories often act as prisms through which we interpret advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The contrasting tales of "Terminator" in Western culture and "Astro Boy" in Eastern culture offer a fascinating lens for examining how these narratives shape our perceptions and attitudes towards these technologies. I obviously speak about "childhood stories" because their narrative was made accessible to me in those formative years of my life, especially Terminator 2.

Astro Boy, a masterpiece from the great grand master Osamu Tezuka, reimagines the classic Pinocchio narrative, weaving a modern tale where science plays the role of the benevolent fairy, bestowing life upon its protagonist. This theme, a hallmark of many Japanese Manga and Anime creations, casts robotics in a romantic light. Similarly, the works of Go Nagai, with iconic super robots like Mazinger Z (also known as Tranzor Z) and Grendizer, are portrayed not just as mechanical marvels but as cooperative guardians standing against existential threats to humanity. In these narratives, science and robotics are consistently depicted as the stalwart defenders of mankind, the key to our salvation from potential annihilation. This storytelling approach consistently positions technology as a force for good, a protector poised to shield humanity from its gravest dangers.

The Western narrative, epitomized by the "Terminator" series, is imbued with caution and apprehension. In this storyline, AI and robots are perceived not only as existential threats but also as potential usurpers of human jobs. This fear of AI and automation leading to widespread unemployment and economic instability echoes the sentiments expressed by Jerry Kaplan in his works. Kaplan argues that our apprehension towards AI in the West stems from an inherent fear of losing control, not just over the technology but also over the societal structures that it might disrupt, particularly in the job market. This narrative resonates deeply with the anxiety prevalent in Western societies about the rapid pace of technological change and its potential to render human skills obsolete.

Japanese karakuri puppets, with their intricate mechanics and cultural significance, have likely contributed to Japan's positive reception of robotics. These traditional automata, embodying craftsmanship and artistic expression, laid the groundwork for accepting robots as harmonious elements in society rather than mere tools or threats. But why didn't the western automata that entertained so many parlours in the 19th century, have the same effect?

The reception of robotics in the West has been somewhat tepid compared to Japan, partly due to concerns over robots displacing the workforce in various industries. The automation of tasks traditionally performed by humans has sparked fears of job loss and economic instability, influencing a more cautious and sometimes skeptical view of robotics in Western societies.

These childhood stories we were told through the media of film and TV are more than simple entertainment; they are potent cultural artifacts that influence societal attitudes towards emerging technologies. They reinforce or create archetypes that are a core aspect of the moral paradigm of the culture. In the West, the cautionary narrative of the "Terminator" leads to a guarded approach towards AI and robotics. It drives the demand for stringent regulations, as noted by Paul Scharre in his discussions on the future of autonomous weapons and AI in warfare. This caution stems not just from the fear of an AI uprising but also from concerns about job security and the economic implications of widespread automation.

Conversely, the Eastern approach, illustrated through "Astro Boy," encourages a rapid adoption of robotics and AI. This attitude fosters innovation and a readiness to integrate technology into various aspects of life and work. It envisions AI not as a disruptive element but as a synergistic partner, a tool for enhancing human capabilities and addressing societal needs.

The divergent perspectives on AI and robotics have profound implications for policy and innovation. They shape how societies prepare for and implement technological advancements and frame the discussion around the ethical, economic, and social impacts of AI and robotics. Understanding these cultural narratives is crucial in navigating the complex terrain of AI and robotics. It's a matter not just of the technology itself but of how society chooses to perceive and interact with it.

"Terminator" and "Astro Boy" are far more than childhood tales; they embody our deepest hopes and fears about the technological future. They remind us that our approach to AI and robotics is inextricably linked to the cultural stories we weave. As we stand at the threshold of a new technological era, these narratives provide valuable insights into how we might craft a future that harmonizes technological advancement with human values and needs.

We are not addressing the fact that the West is in a new nuclear arms race of technology and innovation against the East that will make or break the growth of economy. While not advocating against safeguards or against respect the values of privacy that western democracies value, our positive attitude or fears of robotics and AI is going to make the difference, and I think that The Astro Boy route is the way to go - having robots as our cherished companions, rather than to fear them.

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