Can the Death of Robots Teach us about Life?

Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 16:26 UTC by steve Share This

Can robots or other forms of artificial life teach us anything about life and death? This question is pondered by researcher Carlos Gershenson in his short but interesting essay, "What Does Artificial Life Tell Us About Death?" (PDF format). Death occurs when an organism loses the particular organization that allows the process we call life to occur. Take a living organism, put it in a blender, and a few minutes later you will have exactly the same molecules but with a different organization. The living organism now exists only as a description to third person observers. Gershenson notes:

When the bits describing the organization of the organism are erased, the only place where the organism prevails is in the observer. The same is for robots. The same is for animals. The same is for humans.

Some artificial life, such as digital organisms, can be backed up or saved and then recreated with the same organization. The same may be true for wet alife such as protocells. "If we can create again a living system with the same organization", Gershenson asks, "did it die in the first place?" He goes on to provide speculation on possible definitions of death that correspond to specific views of life. Robotologists will note that he fails to mention the possibility of robot hell or silicon heaven.

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