Thursday, February 03, 2011

Reflections: Eros, Philia, Agape

I was so enamored by Rachel Swirky’s writing that I started reading another book of hers. From the title, I expected this to be another book on Greek mythology, but that was not to be! It’s a science-fiction that looks into the nature of love.

The story takes place in a time way into the future when Artificial Intelligence and Robotics have progressed to a state where one can place a customized order for an Android (down to choosing his/her body parts, brain composition, required aptitudes, interests etc.). Adriana is facing a difficult time in her life and decides to order an Android as her companion and care-taker. Lucian, the android (oh-so-similar to Endhiran ;)) arrives at Adriana’s home and slowly learns to adapt himself and his ways to Adriana’s liking. His consciousness pieces together information like an infant, his neural network strengthens and he finally achieves a level of consciousness and self-awareness to call himself as an individual, who is not merely a machine. But he still doesn’t comprehend who he truly is, and what love truly is. Is he staying with Adriana because that’s what his core system is programmed to be? Is he really in love with her? How is his love for her different than his love for roses or Nature? Is her love towards him different than his? If so, in what ways? He is riddled with all these questions and he decides to find answers to them and to his plaguing question on what is the Self, on his own terms.

Within a few pages into the book, I was pleasantly surprised and was glad to be reading it.  The question of whether machines are capable of achieving a state of consciousness which allows them to attain the self-awareness to know who they are, is a popular question that intrigues AI and Cognitive Scientists. I was impressed that within this short book, Swirsky explores a murky topic from the perspective of  a robot.  The story tackles a host of issues - is “love” or companionship meaningful if mates and companions can be custom-ordered to match our preferences? Is such a companionship long-lasting? Can humans and androids ever be companions?

I really liked the succinct approach Swirsky takes to explore these issues - nothing is overdone or underdone. The story stays together on its own and hints at the answers without the heavy, esoteric arguments which usually clog up such  topics. It was light, yet deep. Her writing was clear and insightful, but it wasn’t as beautiful or poignant as “A Memory of Wind”.

Digested thoughts: I loved the premise of an android who is custom-made as a woman’s companion, slowly evolving in his “thoughts” to wonder what love, companionship and the Self means. It is a short, but an interesting, deep read. 


Karthik said...

sounds interesting ! You are devouring books at a ridiculous rate:-) btw, the new rating scheme with a smiley to summarize your view is nice!

SecondSight said...

Haha, I picked this one up right after A memory of wind too. And now I have something else that's part of the collection, I forget what ;). I wasn't quite as impressed with it- though her writing is good, I felt the book was desperately trying to appear insightful, rather than actually being so. Maybe it's just that there are better books with similar themes out there :)

Neeraja said...

Thanks Karthik! I actually read these books over the last two weeks and am just catching up on the writing... besides, the books are very short reads :)

Secondsight, then I should try other books of this theme! :)

SecondSight said...

Asimov !! And Ray Bradbury :). They deal with the questions of human-robot interactions and the laws that 'should' govern them with amazing sensitivity :)

Neeraja said...

Of course yes, but I haven't yet read an Asimov story focusing on love or companionship.

Anonymous said...

OH... It sounds so good!
Like a true love story, but I think I have read a book that almost had the same topic...
A girl that gets a robot.
He is program to stay with her and make her happy just like a boyfriend, and then he begins to fall in love with her... (and so does the girl)
But it still sounds GOOD ;D