Drone or Clone?

If you’re anything like me, the thought of projecting your consciousness into a robot will send a happy shiver of “what if” down your spine. Ever since I discovered Doctor Who and the joys of science-fiction, robots have been a “thing” for me. I’m going to just admit it: I really want to spend a day in a robot’s big, clunky metallic shoes. Hell it wouldn’t even need to be one of the large, scary ones. A cute one with a little aerial sticking out the top of its head would be just fine.

Flash forward to today, and the possibility of seeing the world as a robot is on the distinctly science side of science-fiction. We’re not there yet but we’re seriously close. Companies like Neurogress are developing software where AI will give us unprecedented control over technology via a brain-computer interface. Couple this with the ridiculous pace of improvements to robotics — (did I mention that Neurogress has plans to begin production on neurocontrolled robots?) — and yes, totally, it’s entirely plausible that in the not too distant future I may be projecting my thoughts into a beautiful, gleaming Selftronic 6000.

So let’s say that I can make it happen and I too can purchase my very own thought controlled robot. There’s a big decision to make here, and one that probably will reveal an uncomfortable amount about my personality.

That decision is … drone or clone?

Who doesn’t want a robot minion drone servant?

The appeal of this notion is obvious. Imagine that you wake up in the morning and put on a brain control device. Instantly you feel the AI engage and greet you. The AI knows you well and has a unique sense of how your brain works. Sleepily, you access your drone robot and power it up. You become aware of its cute, metallic presence in the kitchen and send a thought command to prepare coffee and breakfast.

As you read your morning emails you can sense a small part of your mind nudging and guiding your drone presence to prepare your breakfast, only getting up out of bed when you feel it send a polite and courteous signal that your bacon is just how you like.

The drone option, I must say, is mightily tempting. My whole life I’ve wished that I could neatly sidestep the more boring and onerous of life’s demands so that I can spend more time doing important and noble things that elevate and enlighten my mind… such as eating donuts and watching Doctor Who.

But don’t be too hasty! Bring in the clones!

Let’s just get into semantics for a moment here. What is the real difference between a drone and a clone? Well, I’d argue that it comes down to whether we think of a robot as something to which we issue commands and directives or if we see it as a fully fledged surrogate for ourselves, and a means by which we can experience the world through the electronic eyes of a robot. This latter vision is how I would define a clone and I’m drawn to this too but for very different reasons.

Having a clone would mean that I could experience more. Sure I might have to get my own coffee in the morning, but what if my robotically extended self could travel to the bottom of the ocean? What if I could go visit a sick loved one while my clone stays home and looks after things?

What if I could effectively be two places at once in the truest sense of seeing and experiencing this world to the full — as Radical Science puts it, “reconceptualizing my agency beyond my body.” I want that too!

Ultimately, though, I think we may end up discarding a distinction between drones and clones

When we reach a point of thinking of robots as merely an extension of ourselves, it will probably seem slightly ridiculous or forced to label them as ‘equal’ or ‘subjugated’ to your primary self. After all, when you are eating a cookie while watching Stranger Things, it’d be slightly weird to designate your cookie eating subroutines as drone and your Stranger Things binge watching self as a clone. It’s all one. Some parts of our minds are responsible for small things and other parts of our mind are responsible for Stranger Things. See what I did there?

But surely this is all Star Wars crazy talk

Well. No. It’s actually not.

Thought controlled devices exist right now. The problem is, unassisted our minds simply don’t have the capacity to issue complicated commands. We’re working with an instrument that wasn’t designed for this kind of work. But what if we could get an assist from artificial intelligence?

Neurogress is developing unique software which is doing just that.Through a surprisingly quick process (I’m talking weeks) we humans will be able to train with that software to greatly increase the accuracy and precision with which we can communicate through a brain computer interface. It’s no longer just a matter of us having to learn to communicate using our brains. Now, the technology is also learning us — and this makes amazing new things possible.

So which way am I leaning? Drone or clone? I guess I’ll decide at the robot store.