Growing up I was very fascinated by the concept of robots and until I reached my early teens comics was my main source of literature. I read comics all the time. I remember owning a single Batman comic at a very young age. At the back cover there was a very graphic and scary image of a cyborg ( I do not remember, but I think it was the Cyborg Superman). This image was extremely graphic and back then it looked real to me. I remember his face being half robot and half human, metal and flesh merged together. I was terrified of that image and it fueled my imagination in the worst way. Needless to say, it kept me up at night.
I don´t know what happened to the comic, perhaps I threw it away or hid it somewhere so that I would never have to see it again. Whatever happened to it I never forgot that image. But looking back I think this experience was a good thing. The fact that I remember this experience so vividly it must have made an impact on me. And judging from my fascination with robots, cyborg and the utterly bizarre, I think it is safe to say that that dreadful image of the cyborg at the back of a Batman comic inspired me. For that I am grateful.
Before this turns into a Let´s Read: My Childhood Phobia let us get back to the topic of the day: Tezuka, Robots and Astro Boy. As I promised in my last Let´s Read: Astro Boy I shall give an account of Tezuka´s take on robots. I didn´t discuss this in the Origin of Astro Boy, and the reason is that I wanted to focus on Astro Boy alone. Of course, the origin of robots is vital to understanding the origin of Astro Boy and therefore I will follow up on this now.
As we know Astro Boy is a robot and a darn amazing robot as well! Originally, however, Astro Boy was just a robot image of a boy. No superpowers (he learned this later with the help of professor Ochanomizu) and his robot brain had not reached its full potential. At the time of his creation as Tobio, Astro Boy was like most other robots.
Tezuka´s universe have robots gradually become more and more like humans as science progress. At first, advanced robots are more or less humanoid machines designed to do physical labor, they are crude and with metal skin. But over time robots not only starts to look exactly like humans, but they think and acts like humans to the point where it is hard to see the difference. This of course makes things complicated on a moral and ethical level.
With time it becomes necessary to make robots laws to both protect and limit robot rights. At the time that the Astro Boy Comic takes place robots are not subject to human rights, but robot laws. There are however forces in the world that wants robots to have the same civic rigths as humans, like voting and to be permitted to run for office. And there are those that seek to undermine robots as nothing more than slaves for the humans that created them.
This is what I like about Tezuka´s take on robots, he has it thought through. Tezuka tries to answer some of the philosophical aspects concerning intelligent robots (and also cyborgs). I guess this is what intrigues me about Tezuka´s universe. Being a fan of Star Trek and Sci-Fi I am easily fascinated by the moral issues with scientific progress.
Imagine how this would work in our world. If we imagine that we produced robots that had feelings and a conscience, just like humans, would we give them the privilege of human rights? Considering how we treat our livestock and wild animals of this world I am not optimistic. But I think there are quite a few great philosophical dilemma that would present themselves if we ever get to this level of technology.
Above I mentioned the cyborg at the back of a Batman issue and cyborg technology would present to us a moral dilemma that would be even more complicated than just robots. Imagine a humanoid robot that looked and could feel pain exactly like a human, but had the brain of a real cow. And then imagine a real cow with a robot brain that gave the cow a conscience just like a human. How would we deal with this?
Of course most of Tezuka´s “intelligent” robots are humanoid and that is probably no coincidence.
That concludes this episode of Let´s Read: Astro Boy, but it does not conclude my comment on robots and cyborgs in Tezuka´s universe. As we read on we will encounter more great stories about robots and cyborgs and more ethical conundrums that we shall ponder.
Next episode of Let´s Read: Astro Boy we will read a story from 1961 called the Hot Dog Corps.