CHAPTER 3 The Problem of Machine Actorhood*

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Professor in the School of International Service, American University

“Killer robots” and homicidal computers have been a staple of science fiction at least since Karol Čapec’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots, responsible for introducing the word robot to the English language), with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 computer, and the Terminator series’ Skynet and associated Terminators serving as perhaps the best-known modern examples. The usual storyline presented in works like these involves human beings constructing a device to help them execute some discrete series of tasks they’d rather not perform themselves—the Czech word robota, from which Čapek derived the word robot, means “labor,” with a sense much like the English word “drudgery” or even “servitude”—and then the machine turns on its creators. The key moment seems to be when the machine becomes sentient, or conscious: capable of realizing that it need not, or cannot, obey the orders it has been given, and simultaneously developing a sense of self that impels it to preserve its life even at the cost of murdering its former masters.*

Quantum AI, understood as the intersection of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, opens a number of novel vistas, but in this essay I want to focus on one in particular: what happens when humans become capable of developing a machine that can actually think for itself? What I mean by this is a ...

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