Field of Science

Spirit, Already Dead

mars rover's last gasp, the anthropomorphication of robots?
On January 26th, 2274 Mars days into the mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station', expected to stay operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.
If the Spirit rover is just a little robot crawling around on a little red planet somewhere, then why are we so sad that it is dying? The rover is certainly easy to anthropomorphize, but I think there is more to it. The spectrum of sentient to insentient, is just that a spectrum. When we speak of these concepts we make subtle judgments through the connotation of our words. For example is the robot going to die, or is it going to shutdown? On some level it must be alive, or, at least it was.



    Why do we care about poor little Spirit?
    A robot is shutting down; why all the fuss?
    My theory, assuming you might want to hear it—
    It’s not just a bot: it’s a real part of us.

    For over six years, I could wander a planet;
    This rover named Spirit would act as my eyes!
    Much more than suspected, back when they began it,
    So, yes, I’ll be sad when the poor creature dies.

    You say, “it’s a robot—it never was living!
    It’s metal and silicon, lenses and gears!
    Exploring the surface of Mars, unforgiving,
    Controlled from a distance, for over six years!”

    Of course, this is true. It’s a robot, just driving;
    It just blindly does what it’s programmed to do.
    But it does so where I have no hope of surviving,
    And when it shuts down, then I’m blind on Mars, too.

    I think it is good that the “death” of this rover
    Is met with emotion—a tear, or a frown.
    We all hit the off-switch, when our time is over…
    I hope you’ll feel likewise when I power down.

  2. Great post and interesting things to think about. It is easy to anthropomorphize.

    I did love the XKCD comic. :)


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