In the not-too-distant future, humanity is going to have to decide what it should do with artificial intelligence. As much as human beings have a fear of playing God, there’s going to be a time when artificial intelligence is indistinguishable from human intelligence. At that point, it will need to be called intelligence or people will face the problems associated with slavery, its consequences and what it means in relationship to being human.
Unfortunately, people aren’t yet equipped to understand when the change will take place. What separates the artificial from the organic? The programmed from the born? Especially when so many people are programmed through their culture, their religion, and their media choices.
In “The Lonely,” the captain of the rescue ship, who also happened to bring the robot in the ship has no moral dilemma. He knows who is real and who is not, and he makes his decision accordingly. But for the prisoner, the robot was a living being with emotions who saved his humanity and kept him from isolation-related madness (something addressed in “Where Is Everybody?” and “Time Enough at Last” and, to a lesser extent “Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”).
What happens when a machine saves a man from loneliness and madness? What happens when our phones and computers do the same?