Top of the Line

Lately, robotics has been making major progress. Technological advances range from extremely helpful, to cute (that was actually how a company exec described it), to extremely dangerous, to just fascinating. Tesla CEO Elon Musk (whose net worth is $13 billion — but who knows why that tidbit was included in the report) made a secret visit to Yerushalayim (well, it was supposed to be secret anyway). Purpose? To eye some futuristic innovations of partner company Mobileye in autonomous vehicles — such as negotiating unmarked roads and reading road-signs. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work was featured in the news regarding the concern of authoritarian regimes developing and employing war machines empowered to autonomously decide when to shoot and kill. Starship Technologies is pushing for authorization to “unleash a platoon of smart, friendly robots” to revolutionize the delivery industry. “Starship’s machines,” a company representative said, “can easily call for…backup…we can send other robots in the area [that would] help the robot in distress.” Imagine that: some thief is trying to pilfer starbot’s cargo when he suddenly comes under attack by a herd of these six-wheelies mercilessly ramming into his shins at 10 mph (their maximum allowed speed). They must look cute, though, since someone tried to feed one a banana. Boston Dynamics recently developed a robot that can traverse difficult terrain, open doors, put a box on a shelf, and even right itself back onto its two robo-feet after a tester shamelessly knocked it to the ground with a large stick.

The common denominator of all this is replication of human functioning. Humans can effortlessly move and deliver packages. Comes Starship Technologies and says, “Look! We made a robot that can do that!” Humans, with training, easily negotiate traffic. Google, Mobileye, and others are racing to become the first to market a system that will mimic that remarkable capability. With eyes, feet and hands, people can pinpoint targets and eliminate them. Attack drones were made to do just that.

So much of robotics is all about identifying mechanisms of human operation and recreating them in automated form. Watching Atlas Robot strolling along with its tester, you really can’t help but be amazed. It’s equally impossible, though, not to notice the contrast with its human tester who walks so effortlessly that — if not for his clunky companion who carries a load of wires on its back — one could think there’s nothing remarkable to take note of.

If there’s something we can learn from the enthralling advances in the world of robotics, it’s that ours is one seriously sophisticated system. And most of this system functions without us having to consciously operate it. The motherboard, the oxygen and blood pumps, structural integrity, electrical impulses — you name it — all working 24/7, “autonomously.”

We humans are a top-of-the-line product. Actually, we are the top-of-the-line. Not only did Hashem give us the best of the spiritual world — as Chazal say, our neshamah bears a likeness to Hashem in five different ways (see Brachos 10a) — He also gave us the best of the best of the physical realm. The Nefesh HaChaim (1:6) explains that the human being is the magnum-opus composite of all the forces formed in the universe that preceded man’s creation, both on the spiritual level and on the physical level.

The Ramchal says that basic, practically-obvious concepts can become forgotten for lack of attention. The same can be said of things that work so smoothly that we may simply fail to take note of how sophisticated they really are. Because life’s ebb and flow progresses so naturally, we can be lulled into a sense of humdrum unimportance. The streamlined functioning of our bodies and minds, within the context of what can become life’s day-to-day monotony, makes it that we can kind of forget who and what we really are.

Harav Yisrael Salanter is quoted as saying: “If a person is not aware of his deficiencies, it’s a serious handicap; but if he is unaware of his positive virtues and qualities, he is practically lost!” We need to know our own mettle. Robots and the technology of robotics really are so impressive. Every time a new facet of these incredible advances emerges, it’s impossible to not feel the “Wow!” of it. But don’t forget what that says about you! So much of all that amazing technology is simply trying to copy what you can do. Effortlessly.

So the next time you read about one of these amazing new gadgets doing something like carrying on a conversation or signing a letter, seize the opportunity to marvel at your own top-of-the-line sophistication. Be inspired, energized, and empowered all over again by how much the Ribbono shel Olam has invested into the top-of-the-line phenomenon that is you.