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Robot Choices

The phone rang at 8 o’clock this morning with a request that we attend for our 2nd Astra Zeneca vaccination at 2 p.m. today! We complied!


Would that all decisions were so comparatively easy. Agreeing to the government request to get the vaccine was a considered decision - but it didn't take us long. The risks of contracting Covid at our age vs. the miniscule size of the risks posed by the vaccine meant, that, for us, vaccination seemed like the best option.


Generally, decision-making is getting more and more difficult for a variety of reasons. Like the information about Covid and its vaccines, knowledge is changing all the time. The decline in trust of authority of all kinds means that the church, the government, the experts upon whom people used to rely are viewed (often rightly!) with a level of scepticism. Alongside these traditional authorities, numbers of sometimes convincing but contradictory voices telling us what to do and what is right proliferate. Online advice, information and wisdom only multiply our options. The rate at which life has to be lived means that we often don’t have the time needed to assemble and assess the options available. It’s a real challenge and we all need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the media we use together with the skills and ability to factcheck information.


Other significant developments are the changes in the type of decisions we need to make. Technological developments present choices which our parents and grandparents never dreamed of.


My thoughts about future decision-making have been brought into sharp focus recently by the story of Klara and the Sun – the latest book by the Nobel Prize winner - Kazuo Ishiguro. The novel explores the relationship between – AF (artificial friend) Klara who is a robot specially designed and bought as a companion for a teenage girl, and Josie,’ her’ genetically modified or ‘lifted’ teenager friend.


The novel presents some of the choices which are moving nearer and nearer. To what extent do we wish to develop robots to meet our needs and take the place of human relationships? What outcomes do we need to think about if we agree to gene editing children? What resources do we need to be human? Who are we without those resources?


Learning to make wise decisions as families and communities, taking into account a variety of complex human needs and technological developments is going to demand every bit of wit and wisdom the human race can develop.


And since none of us knows and understands everything, the significance of participating in many-sided public discussion and debate between the powerful and the powerless will become even more important as we decide which authorities we trust.


In the process of decision-making we shall certainly need more than the government 'dictats' that we followed today in accepting our vaccinations. In the UK we must oppose the kind of movement to suppress and criminalise protest signified by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.


Online all of us must develop intelligent suspicion of social media with its herd mentality, its potential for shaming innocent individuals and its option of anonymity as a medium for offering advice and reaction between strangers.


We need to think about so much more but ultimately the question is – are we going to make our decisions like robots with programmed reactions to specific issues or are we going to do everything in our power to understand and hold on to those things that make and keep us human.






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