Margaret Atwood Are Humans Necessary? Margaret Atwood on Our Robotic Future

In this article, published in the opinion section on, Margaret Atwood writes about the how robots are both in our past and our future. While they may not have always had that name, for as long as stories have been recorded, animate, non-biological constructs have been described. They are used for labor, sent where the living cannot go and viewed with equal parts fear and awe.

And the fear becomes more acute the more closely these robots resemble us. "The worry seems to be that perfected robots, instead of being proud to serve their creators, will rebel, resisting their subservient status and eliminating or enslaving us." Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects with much less agency than such a perfected robot would have. If one can imagine that one's car, a machine not yet capable of self-driving, can have feelings or be coaxed into starting by encouraging words, then it would take no great leap to imagine that a robot who looks like a person must have feelings just like we would in their position. We create these machines to do the work that we do not care to do, and then, belatedly, imagine that they must not like it either.

And if they do not care for the tasks for which they were created, then what will they do? What would we do? Perhaps they will, in turn, create robots to do their own jobs, in a continuing regression. Smaller and smaller robots built by robots, each allowing their creators the leisure to seek whatever they wish to pursue.

Whether or not robots are, ultimately, good for humanity, they will be created. They are already being created, displacing factory workers (until they create unions, perhaps), and entering hazardous areas where the fragile biology of humanity cannot survive. "Every technology we develop is an extension of one of our own senses or capabilities.... So how different will our lives be if the future we choose is the one with all these robots in it?" Will we extend our very selves into robotics? Will they become more alive than us, outlasting us not only as individuals but as a species?

This article leads well into the viewing that we did next of the show Battlestar Galactica. There, the Cylons were the robots that humanity created to ease the difficulty of life on colonized planets. And, fulfilling a fear that Atwood brings up, they rebel. They fight, and then retreat to evolve into new forms. They attempt to emulate humanity, to emulate life, even as they destroy the majority of the human race. I wonder if Atwood ever watched that show, and what she thought of it if she did.

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