“The Human Machine Was Horribly Imperfect”: Staging the Ethics of Human-AI Relationships


  • Jarrod DePrado Sacred Heart University Author




Marjorie Prime, Uncanny Valley, The Nether, Rossum's Universal Robots, Isaac Asimov, Artificial Intelligence Ethics


In 1920, Karel Čapek wrote R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), a work that fundamentally altered our understanding of the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence. Today, this relationship is a source of ongoing ethical dilemmas, as evidenced by three contemporary plays: Thomas Gibbons’s Uncanny Valley (2015), Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime (2014), and Jennifer Haley’s The Nether (2013). These plays, whether through humanoid robots, holographic manifestations, or digital avatars, explore humanity’s inherent existential concerns when relying on technology, either in the creation or implementation processes or the repercussions afterward. In their attempts to supplement or replace humans with artificial intelligence or the real world with digital spaces, the human characters reveal an innate human struggle to compensate for physical and emotional limitations, often with mixed success. As we examine these plays through the lens of Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, we see a clear message: because AI is used in different ways in the contemporary world, Asimov’s laws must be updated to reflect those changes. Robots serve humans who, 
when creating technological surrogates, find themselves accountable to the laws in ways that operate in an ironic mix of the human drive for self-preservation and the technological inevitability of self-destruction through irrelevance. Ultimately, as much as humans try to replace themselves with technology, the process merely underscores the superficiality and fabricated emotional connections at the heart of those relationships.