Trouble Confers With Sigidi
THE Yoruba word for ‘robot’ is ‘sigidi’. As Yoruba words go for foreign ideas, it is an inspired word swop. The word occurs in Dr. Kayode J. Fakinlede’s YORUBA: Modern Practical Yoruba – English, English – Yoruba Dictionary. Dr. Fakinlede is one of the eminent soldiers fighting in the war to keep African languages modernised. He is soldiering in the Yoruba battlefront and with the support of so many other soldiers he wins the battle here. But will he lose the war? At some future date, Trouble will interact with Dr. Fakinlede and celebrate his victories so far in the battle to make Yoruba relevant to modern knowledge. A veritable ‘sigidi’ links Dr. Fakinlede and I. Growing up along Arakale Road, there was this boy called Jogunde who had a massive head on a stunted body and frightened the nonsense out of me. Every day, as I prepared to walk to school at Sacred Heart Primary through Mosalasi, by St. Thomas’ Primary School where my cousins were and I would have preferred to be but my mother would not hear of it, Jogunde would stand in the middle of the road and fish out my penny lunch money! Reminiscing one day, Dr. Fakinlede mentioned the fact that Jogunde and his father lived in the house of Dr. Fakinlede’s father, not far from our Osukoti compound. I was relieved. I had been wondering all the time if Jogunde was a mere invention of my imagination. He terrorised me but lets get back to ‘sigidi’.
Sigidi is a clay image of the human torso with eyes and mouth and nose marked. It serves the maker without any question, without any hesitation. But sometimes Sigidi out of playfulness asks to be exposed to the rain forgetting that it is made of mud! It is part of the forgetfulness of the past the Nollywood has not gotten on to sigidi. Because, if robots can now make robots, what prevents sigidi from moulding other sigidi to serve its own purpose against other sigidi and against even humans.
Now that we have a word for robots, Yoruba language can join the discussion on robots, robotics and robotethics. A language will not die if it can discuss the cutting edge of human knowledge in its time. Right now, “some futurists, philosophers and technophiles believe we are approaching what they call the ‘singularity’: a point in time when smart machines became much smarter, stronger, and faster than their creators, and then become self-conscious. If there’s any chance of this occurring, it’s worthwhile to ponder the consequences.” We can link this possibility of robot self-consciousness with ‘sigidi’s forgetfulness!
Some fifty years ago, Isaac Asimov, American author of science fiction and professor of biochemistry, devised three laws for robots. 1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or the Second Law.
All this sigidi stuff came in the trail of the first partial removal of cancerous kidney next month in South Africa, an operation to be done by a robot. The ‘Da Vinci systems’ are guided by surgeons to make tiny incisions and perform precise operations. Robotics, we are told, are going to revolusionise surgery on cancer in South Africa in the future.
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Nigerians who took their medical knowledge back to where they had acquired them – Canada, United States of America and the United Kingdom – fitted in quite easily even if they had not been at universities in those countries. After all they had been at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. Fast forward to the present where Nigerian patients go to the United States of America, they go to the United Kingdom, they go to France and now they go to South Africa and to India. Nigerian doctors are not able to provide Nigerian patients with the medical services that they need. The news that has emanated from Nigerian hospitals are about heart surgery and bone marrow surgery at Nigerian hospitals. Congratulations to the hospitals that can now do surgery that are being done by robots in the West and in Asia.
Our medical doctors and surgeons would be unemployable overseas if they are not taught the cooperation between surgery by robotics and surgery by humans and the cooperation that seems to be crucial between sigidi and humans for the future of surgery. And conscious of the fact that one of the things that our home doctors want to achieve is to dismiss medical tourism in the United States of America, in Canada, in the United Kingdom and in Europe and Asia, it is necessary that our colleges of medical sciences must include robotics in their syllabus.
Medicine is not the only area of cutting edge information in the world today. We are the threshold of new knowledge in space science and travel, in the area of nanotechnology and information technology. In all these areas, African languages must find their words and discuss mode if we are to go forward. This way, the battles will be won and the war would be won as well.
In the meantime, we can say that because we have the word for robot we can speak endlessly about things robotic. We can speak of the origins of sigidi among us. We can talk of the history of sigidi among us or among the Igbo or among other ethnic nationalities that had sigidi. We can speak of the characteristics of sigidi and their possible forgetfulness that would make them unconscious of the possibility of their self-destructiveness. We can then go into what ethics should govern the actions of sigidi in their interaction between themselves and between them and us humans. In fact we can now claim that nothing can be said or discussed or pontificated about robots that we cannot say about sigidi. With that one word, we have entered the 21st century of research and publications on robotics or sigidi!