I have written about artificial intelligence and robots many times here, also about the levels of intelligence a device and humans can have. Life is something different, life is the ability to exist in an enviroment. I have written about the big difference between metal silicon based artifical ‘life’ in that it can remain passive without problems for long times. A mind in a machine can be parked some place and as it is not under threat of thirst, hunger of fatigue (to name a few problems real living creatures have) it could basically shut down for a century with little problems.
Still humans, animals, plants are now understood to be hydrogen metabolizing molecular devices that self repair and replace, grow and develop in a programmed and responsive manner. We are machines, we just had to learn to consider biological processes as mechanical and chemical ones. The distinction between man and machine is this relative immortality of machines, and of course that no machine has ever shown itself a self sustaining and usefull presence, being one of us (more or less). It is very hard to feel for machines on Earth, humans are prefectly adapted to both surviving and enjoying what it has to offer.
But once the situation gets more hostile, say in a war zone, a robot can become a friend. A bomb inspection and defusing robot can gain real affection of the operator, because the machine is saving lives, it is working under different conditions and may break down or not. The uncertainty of its performance can make it come alive, as if the device makes an effort and cares for they people that operate it. Now the easiest thing to say is “IT DOESN’T!”. But how long will this remain true?
Imagine a Boston Dynamics Robot dog on a battlefield (for some dumb reason soldiers have been send out to fight other soldiers), the dog has a monitor of the hydration of the soldiers, ammo count, and it runs around serving what is needed while scanning for bullets and gun barrels in order to avoid them. Even though this robot has only a few things on the priority list and nothing else, no hobbies, no home town, it is taking care of the soldiers in a real way. For sure the soldiers will want to keep it around, and take care of it.
How hard is it to imagine these dogs being constructed of replaceable parts, which can all be replaced by the dogs themselves. Also the dogs can self diagnose if a part needs to be replaced and they can get the part from a store themselves (and/or even order it). now the dogs operate autonomously. They can always be there as long as the parts are replenished. But thinking this is a hack is short sighted. We eat cows, cows eat grass, grass grows due to fungi in the soil. If our life is ‘mechanical’ so is that of the cow and the gras. Life is supported by other life mostly be consuming it but also by using it passively or actively. So we don’t have to work with only the dogs but an ecosystem of robots and automated systems is allowed. So the parts can be made in a factory, the factory can be maintained by other dogs, the raw materials arrive in robot trucks, they get them from the robot mine.
Mars is not a warzone, but still very hostile. People will arrive there in a robot, the Starship. It will have countless systems for navigation, control, life support, sensing and research on board. Its mission is to keep its crew alive and healthy. It will have to plan and intent actions (although maybe Musk will be keeping it simple). On Mars humans will have to rely completely on their support systems. These systems will create a self sustaining habitat and keep it safe and fueled etc. Will these systems be ‘alive’ because they keep themselves going? Mars does not have life and you can’t remote control a device from Earth. So these robots that take samples etc. Aren’t those (unsupported) lifeforms?