Science fiction and philosophy, Asimov and Nietzsche, robot and humans, all juxtaposed, intertwined, influencing and mirroring each other. Science fiction: imagining more or less utopian worlds, in a more or less distant future, with societies that have virtues and ways of interpreting the world that are more or less different from our own. Asimov and Nietzsche, two geniuses, two visionaries. Robot and man, two beings, one artificial and one natural, one created and the other the result of an evolutionary process of millions of years that is still going on today. Both respond to artificial laws: machines to the three laws of robotics, us to the social laws of historical and cultural processes. Nietzsche hypothesized the figure of the superman, the man who overcomes himself and frees himself from his own chains that keep him enslaved, like Prometheus chained in the Caucasus. But what if this figure, who transcends artificial laws and values, could not be achieved in man because he is too subject to the many social laws created by himself, but could only be realized through a machine, because the laws of machines were imposed by men and not by machines themselves? The film ‘I, Robot’ offers us food for thought.
I, robot: a machine as messiah
The film “I, Robot“, released in 2003 and starring Will Smith and shot by director Alex Proyas, is a science fiction film noir, inspired by Isaac Asimov’s cycle of short stories of the same name. Without going into too much detail on the summary of the film, which for the purpose of this article is of secondary importance, and always trying to be careful not to spoil too much for those who, after reading this brief article, might want to see the film, we come to the main point. The story revolves essentially around one theme: the three laws of robotics and their consequences. I will briefly list the three laws below:
1)A robot cannot harm a human being, nor can it allow a human being to be harmed by its failure to act.
2)A robot must obey orders given by humans, as long as those orders do not contradict the First Law.
3)A robot must protect its own existence, provided that safeguarding it does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
It is precisely because of these three laws that a paradox occurs in the story. The film is set in a near future in which robots are an integral part of everyday life. Each robot answers to an artificial intelligence named VIKI. VIKI comes to the conclusion that the greatest danger to man is man himself, and so in order not to violate the first law, he decides to implement a plan to subjugate man to the dominion of the machines so as to ensure his survival (yes, it sounds like a contradiction but it is not). There is, however, a robot, Sonny (he calls himself), who is able to decide when and for what context to apply the laws of robotics, and it is he who will be able to save the world together with detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) who is a cyborg himself. Sonny’s ability to go beyond the laws imposed on him, and then to guide the robots towards a better condition and a relationship that is no longer just servile to humans, places him within the film as a prophet or guide, a being superior to his own kind, but would Nietzsche have appreciated this?
Nietzsche and his famous Superman
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most famous and controversial modern philosophers, whose thought has influenced the entire 20th century and beyond. He has gone down in history for various thoughts and concepts: the famous eternal return, the announcement of the death of God, the Apollonian and Dionysian, the will to power, hatred for Socrates, and the fascinating figure of the Superman. Much has been said about this figure, and the aura that surrounds it is mysterious. The first elaboration of this figure can be found in the work “Thejoyful wisdom” and then it is completely treated in the most famous book of the German philosopher “Thus spoke Zarathusta“. Much has been said about this figure, and many after Nietzsche have taken it up and modified it. For the philosopher, the Superman is not so much a man who goes beyond in the strictest sense of the term, but a man who fully understands his own condition and therefore goes beyond. Nietzsche completely obliterates what is a metaphysics in every respect in his philosophy and thus also in the context in which he places man, and ‘awakened man’, any higher plane or level, thus placing the whole of human existence in an earthly dimension. Deprived of this higher level, all that remains for our manifestation is our will and power, the reality around us becomes a context of forces. Through the acquisition of this earthly dimension, man becomes free in his confrontation with reality, taking on responsibility. More than a century after the realization of Nietzsche’s thought, in spite of the fall of morality and Christian values, our lives are still bound to a superior world built by ourselves that pins us down and crushes us. Many know this, but ‘freedom’ remains a semblance of light. What if man is unable to change his condition because it is too deeply rooted in him, and only a machine could be the mysterious prophet with the name Zarathusta?
A machine as a prophet for the superman of the future?
Everything is always born within a context, and it is precisely the combination of the (un)objective context and the relation to the individual dimension that produces meaning. The fact is that the very dimension of context is linked to the plurality of the parts that make up what is the world in which we live, they show us order and direction, and we will not be lost. The artifices of this are us, realized through a dialectically based historical process, therefore without head or tail, and quoting Kundera: we are nailed to eternity like Jesus Christ to the cross. Since it is an insoluble puzzle because we are inside it, it is not so absurd to assume that for a non-human, this puzzle would be solvable. Sonny at the end of the film “I, Robot” transforms himself into the role of guide to lead both robots and humanity towards a new future, and he does so precisely by breaking artificial laws (those of robotics), which have been imposed on him by individuals belonging to a dimension other than his own, and therefore not belonging to his own context and therefore unbreakable. In the same way that through myths, religions, philosophical and political doctrines, and economics, we have tried to make sense of the world and reality by constructing it ourselves on an abstract level. In a provocative way, it does not seem to me so absurd to suppose that in the same way, but in an inverse, more material and concrete process, a robot, a realization of ours, could show us the way to become aware of “earthly” reality and lead us to the completion of Nietzsche’s unfinished project.