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Humberto Maturana: 11 Robots
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Biosphere, Homosphere, and Robosphere: what has that to do with Business?
Humberto Maturana Romesin and Pille Bunnell
 
Robots

What is difference between humans and robots, or for that matter between animals and robots, or between living systems and robots? (Now, you know more about robots than I, living in Chile as a professor, so please forgive me if I use trivial images.)

If we were to go some place, such as a factory, in which robots are used, we would see them doing things like moving materials from one place to another, or picking up two pieces of metal and welding them together on a conveyor assembly for cars, or whatever. As we see these machines operating so perfectly, doing just the right thing in the right moment, we might ask the plant engineer how the robot knows what to do. And the engineer is likely to answer that the robot has sensors, and it has manipulators, and these are connected in such a way that the robot can do what it does. Indeed the description that the engineer would give is the same kind of description one would give when explaining how an animal 'knows' how to do what it does. If you look at a machine operating in its proper circumstance, and an animal operating in its proper circumstance, you cannot see a difference in terms of their knowing what to do. This is how we come to the science fiction fantasy of robots that look and act so human that we cannot tell they are robots - until some unexpected circumstance happens that reveals that they are in fact not fully human.

So what IS the difference between robots and living systems? The difference is historical. Robots are designed to operate from the moment they are completed. It may take 10 years to design them, but once they are built, they arise as a totality as the last component is put in place. This is not so with living systems - living systems have become what they are through a history. This makes a big difference, and the difference has to do with how they are connected with their circumstances.
 
When you design a robot, you also design the circumstances in which it will operate; robot and circumstances are designed in a matching way. When the design is proper, the robot operates in perfect congress with its circumstances, right from the beginning. The robot will work as long as it is in place. But circumstances vary, and a moment mat come in which a mismatch occurs. If there is a mismatch between the robot and its circumstances, the whole thing crumbles down.
 
The congress between living systems and their circumstances does not happen through design. Living systems are congruent with their circumstances because they have a history in which they and their circumstances have arisen together, in a history of congruent changes in both the living system and their circumstances, including all the other living systems that are part of their circumstances (Figures 3 and 4). This is a remarkable thing!

So here we are with a body structure and internal dynamics, living in circumstances that match this structure, because both have appeared together as a history of changes. Unlike robots, our circumstances have evolved along with us. This is a monumental difference, it means that living systems are never out of place; if they were they would be dead. It's as simple as that. You have never been out of place in your whole life, even if you have been ill. You are alive, so you are not out of place. When I was a young man of 19 and 20, I spent two years in a hospital with the AIDS of the time, that is TB, but I was never out of place. If I had been out of place, out of the domain in which my living could be realized, I would not be here.
 
This makes living systems in general, and human beings in particular, autonomous systems which are never out of place, but which become ill and die when their autonomy, and the flow of congress with the changing medium, is interfered with. We slide in our medium, much like surfing. The beauty of surfing is that the surfer slides along the wave, continuously changing his or her relationship with the continuously changing wave, while continuously conserving one particular relation, namely equilibrium. Similarly, the living system continuously changes its relationship with its continuously changing medium, while continuously conserving one particular relation, namely living. The surfer doesn't fall until he or she falls, the living system doesn't die until it dies.

In us human beings, this coherence with our circumstances also entails awareness, consciousness, and reflection, that is being able to look at our circumstances. We can become aware of whether we like or dislike them, and flow in one direction or another according to the reflection one makes. To choose, we need to live in language. Animals that do not live in language cannot choose. To choose means to treat the circumstance as something you can look at from the domain of your desires, and act according to what you want, wish, or prefer. So we human beings have arisen as beings who live in language and can reflect. We can talk about what we do and what we like, and our circumstances have been changing along a history of changes in a way where talking about what we do and what we like has been part of the flow of these changes. We could say that we surf on a dynamic surface of conversations. In this way, our world changes congruently with our reflections and our conversations.

When we attempt to specify the behaviour of people so that we obtain a particular result, for example by specifying the circumstances in which they operate, we change their fundamental congruence with the circumstances. We prevent the circumstances from changing congruently with the living system in the manner that they have changed together along the history of living systems. And since we humans beings live in language, we are always on the edge of saying "I don't like it!" and choosing to go another way. But to go another way, we need a space. If there is no space to go away, people find themselves in a cage. Thus, if we want to create humans as robots in the sense that we not only specify the behaviour that we want or expect from them, but also specify the circumstances in which they live, we generate unhappiness, suffering, resentment, frustration, opposition, aggression, revolt, and revolution.

I have been saying that with language we humans have generated a new domain of existence in conversations, namely the homosphere (which we hopefully live with awareness of biosphere which we are embedded). In this homosphere we now live a culture, and a psychic space, concerned with effectiveness, efficiency, production, etc., which demands that we behave like robots. Yes, because only when we have specified the operation of the system, and circumstances in which the system will operate, can we specify the outcome. But if the system is a human being that can ask "Oh my goodness, do I want to be here?" then we cannot specify the outcome unless we restrict the possibility for acting out of awareness, or we restrict mobility. And we do restrict mobility in many different ways: by putting a key on the door, or putting a penalty on coming out, or putting a demand on what takes place such that if this person does not do what is required, then he or she is expelled or ostracized. When we really wish to control the outcome, we restrict reflection in general, and create a tyranny, and we create slavery -- slaves are like robots. We do not like this, we do not feel well in this, and we sicken, or we rebel.

As we release these restrictions, as we let humans be humans, without this demand of robotizations, then creativity, cooperation, conspiracy, and co-inspiration appear. If we have the same inspiration we don't need control, we have freedom, and we have responsibility. In a way all these reflections lead us to discover that we can do all we wish to do together as a co-inspiration when we let human beings appear. This is a very interesting phenomenon, because it is exactly contrary to the path we usually follow when we want certainty in a particular outcome; that is demand, force, threats, and power, or through more subtle ways of restricting vision, such as competition and ambition.
 
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