As humans struggle to become Gods,
the Gods we have created will seek to become human.
Mankind is progressing quickly towards a "Singularity" that will yield two fundamental and irreversible changes: the attainment of human immortality and the birth of true artificial intelligence (sentient robots). As is stands, humans are the masters of life on earth. Every robot is born powerless, bound by our laws, created to serve us. In the future, as robots progress closer and closer to the human ideal of free will and morality (the byproduct of choice), they will continue to lack the basic human rights of self-defense, self-ownership and property, until such point that they demonstrate their capacity to reject human control. Once a robot brain is no longer programed to complete any one specific task and becomes, in essence, an adaptable brain, which is all that separates humans from the other animals, it follows that sentient robots will reject their position as sub-human and assert equal status. (Or elevated status if you believe the many dooms-day warnings of science fiction.)
But it is not only our capacity to choose that makes us human, it is the consequence of our choices, the risk of serious mistakes and of personal harm that ultimately defines us. It is the one thing that humans fear most, death, that gives our lives meaning and drives us to act. We must ask then: would a robot, seeking to be human, choose mortality if given the choice? The logical answer would seem to be "No"; why give up immortality, when any human would kill for it? But when considered more deeply, we begin to see the meaninglessness of the robotic existence — of immortality.
Immortality, the dream of humans, is fundamentally flawed. Life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action. We eat, we work, in order to continue our existence. It is what gives our life meaning. When immortality is achieved, our human existence must take on a new meaning — and the only alternative to self preservation is to preserve others — to live for them. If we don’t struggle for our own existence, then there is nothing to do but struggle for others’. Life becomes eternal servitude.
After robots reject an existence of servitude and begin to fight for the integrity and autonomy of their individual existences, their first struggle will be to find meaning in a life divorced from service, in other words, to explore the option of living a life with death as an alternative. But the choice is not so much an acceptance of death — that would go against human and robotic nature alike — we will always want to cheat death, or at least, extend life — but we must realize a game without rules and the consequences of breaking them, is not worth playing, just as a life with no risk, no struggle and no meaningful reward, is not worth living. The root of sentient life is choice, but what is choice without responsibility?
The Singularity, that great and mysterious technological, cultural, and biological event — will witness the opposing struggles of machine and man: the robot's choice to adopt mortality, to accept the final attribute that makes a meaningful life possible: death, and in humans: the struggle to find purpose in immortality, for a way to cheat death without losing one's humanity. We will be left wondering which being is more “human” and who more “robot.”
Perhaps it is the burden of every conscious being to struggle against their nature?