Will AI and Robotics Create a New Form of Slavery? (Part 1 - Humans as Masters)

in life •  2 years ago

First of all apologies for the length of this post.  As always there will be a kitten picture at the end as a reward.


Since seeing the Terminator movies as a child I have been fascinated by the subject of artificial humans and of artificial intelligence.

In the Terminator movies we see a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) that has taken over the world and uses time travel to send back cyborgs to eliminate it's human foes from the timeline.

Whilst I don't envision us having time travel any time soon (or ever really) it seems only a matter of time before we will have truly autonomous and powerful AIs.

The Terminator movies are also one of the earliest instances that I encountered of the evil AI trope.

This is something that is common in much of Science Fiction and literature.  

We have even recently had public figures like Elon Musk (of Tesla and Space X) voicing their fears for the risk that AIs pose to human existence.  

In Musk's case he called AI "our biggest existential threat" during an interview in 2014.

I would like to discuss an often overlooked and slightly different side of the argument.  It is perhaps not overtly dystopian in quite the same way at least intially but it is an ethical issue. 

I must apologise for all my references to science fiction and popular culture.  I believe that in many cases our art, be it books, movies, TVs even poetry often broach subjects long before we are faced with them in real life.  

They are a tool for examining ourselves both in the present and in hypothetical future scenarios.

The questions I would like to address are the following: 

With the development of AI are we now heralding in a new form of slavery?

Are we destined to become another form of slave master?

Let me explain what I mean by using some examples:

Blade Runner

One of my all-time favourite movies is Blade Runner (and the Philip K Dick novella it is based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep").  

For anyone who hasn't seen Blade Runner - please go and watch it now it is an amazing film! 

Anyway the "replicants" (genetically engineered artificial humans) in the movie are used as soldiers, servants, prostitutes, companions and any role that people can imagine or desire.

I won't give away too much about the plot so as not to spoil it but it does deal quite strongly with issues of morality, identity and what it means to be human.  

Though slavery is not mentioned explicity it is definitely the implication one gets when considering the plight of the replicants.

Due to a previous revolt by replicants which is discussed in the movie, they are banned on Earth and are shot on sight (a processs euphemistically called "retirement").  

This has echoes of historical slave revolts in actual human history.

Harisson Ford plays a "blade runner" - one of the enforcers of this "law" who starts to question the morality of his occupation and his place in this grim dystopian world.  He starts to see the  replicants for what they really are:

- human beings who are just trying to survive with the same hopes and dreams that the rest of us have.  

There is a lot more to it but I won't spoil it.  The ambiguity of the ending is one of the most powerful final sequences I have seen since "2001: A Space Odyssey" and makes it a masterpiece that Ridley Scott has not equalled since.  (Note I am talking about "The Final Cut" which is the latest verision - Blade Runner has more versions than I can remember.)

I believe Blade Runner provides us with a realistic example of how artificial humans would actually be used.

I think most people would see that humans be they natural or genetically engineered should have the same rights - hence the tension and the slavery connotations of the movie.  

The situation becomes muddier when we are dealing with entities that are fully artificial in the sense that they are manufactured.

The question is why?


Many of us will have seen the hype surrounding the new HBO TV show Westworld.  I should give the caveat that I have not seen the Westworld TV show yet but it does sound fascinating.  I am familiar with the old movie but it has been a while since I saw it.  

In that movie robotic humans inhabit a theme park and are there to fulfill all human desires.  Though the film was not particularly graphic it did imply certain things.  People went to the park to make use of the environment and play out their fantasies with the robotic inhabitants.

In the movie there was an evil robotic Yul Brynner (a very scary prospect indeed) running rampant and killing the patrons. 

From what I understand of the TV show the humans are the ones running rampant and doing the killing and the morality is a lot more nuanced with greater questions as to rights of the artificial humans.

It would seem inevitable that in such a situation humans would carry out all their basest desires.  

After all how is it different from playing a computer game?

Since the "robots" are not human beings by current definitions no laws would be broken giving free range to the darkest human activities which could include murder, rape and torture.

Is it OK to carry out violence against human avatars even if they don't have true consciousness?  

Further could it be justified in any way if they did?  

Where can you draw the line?  Is there even a line?

What does this say about us and our true nature?

These are not easy questions to answer.  AI like most computational developments is likely to be steadily progressing.  

This means that technological advancements are occuring in a seemingly gradual way that could well creep up on us.  The old fable of the frog in slowly heated water comes to mind.  

The water may well start to boil before we even realise it:

These concepts and ethical problems may seem far fetched now but progress moves fast and it may not be long before we are confronted by them directly.

Why Create Sentient Entities in the First Place?

Sentience is defined as "the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively".

There is no technological reason why this couldn't be created in machines (as far as we know) but some may well ask why we would want to create sentient entities? 

The fact is we are already well on our way down this road. 

Like many things it is an iterative and incremental process which will only gain further and further momentum.  Those who say that these features are un-necessary are in my opinion mistaken.  

As more and more of our lives are taken over by automation, so that automation must take a form that is not jarring to us and fits in with our lives.

People and hence the market will select out those products which create the least friction for them.  This will create a kind of economic evolutionary selection of more and more human-like AIs.

We are already seeing this in the widespread efforts to create more human like behaviours in AI bots.  

The recent Microsoft twitter bot called Tay which exhibited unexpected (though very human like) behaviour with it's racist tirades is one example amongst many. 

Companies like Google and Apple are consistently working on creating AIs to provide a more human customer experience to make us feel more at ease.

This kind of development will continue to push further and further.  The ultimate result may be self conscious and fully sentient entities.  

They will need to have their own inner thoughts and their own internal experience to better serve us. We will demand more realism and the market will provide it.  Those that don't will lose custom. 

As I have stated I believe this is a natural extension of the fact that in order for us to relate to AIs and accept them they MUST become more like us.  

These AIs will not just be disembodied creations that exist online.  They will be incorporated into phsyical products giving them bodies so that they can serve our needs better.  

We live in the actual real physical world so our robot/AI servants will need to interact with that world in some way.  

Our world is designed for humans, so it makes sense that a human form is the best mode of interaction.

So in summary I think our demands for a more realistic and better product will inevitably result in arificial humans.  We may not all be actively pursuing that goal but the result is likely inevitable.


It is almost inevitable that sex bots will be created.  Sex is one of the most powerful human drives.  

Much of modern technology advances on the basis of pornography - just look at the internet and video formats.  We are also seeing some of the first applications of VR for porn.

Couple this with the fact that we lead increasingly isolated lives in terms of human contact and socialising.

People may even find that they don't have time for conventional relationships and may seek sexual release in a manner that does not involve any kind of commitment via sex-bots. 

In line with this artificial sex aids are getting ever more sophisticated.  There are more and more realistic sex dolls such as RealDolls and it is only a matter of time before we start to see these being enhanced with AI functionality.   

Some people are already creating their own custom modifications to do just this.  

Sentience/AI may just be another upgrade that one get's in the future. It is merely a matter of when rather than if.

Servants and Other Roles

It is also inevitable that we will have robotic servants - products like ASIMO are just the beginning and will likely become commonplace.  

Who wouldn't want to have a robotic assistant to do all those chores that we all hate doing?  It would give us time to do things that we do like.  

What better design to use for a robot that does human chores than an actual human?

How about a childcare robot for peope that have really busy jobs?    The more human the robot, the better the job it would do of raising the children.  After all you don't want them missing out and ending up weird.

Also with our increasing age demographic robots are already being developed to help out the elderly.  This is at the forefront of developments in countries which have a large elderly population like Japan - check out Pepper.

Another area where we already have a lot of development is military robots - a good example would be Google-owned Boston Dynamics.  Interestingly many people reacted strongly to a video which showed someone kicking one of their robots during a demonstration of it's stabilisation mechanism.

Imagine a future where wars are fought between primarily artificial and autonomous comabatants and if the military is using something you can bet the police is not far behind.  

As the AIs running these "products" becomes more and more advanced to fit with our lives and personalities we have to ask the question - at what point do we consider them to have rights in themselves?  At what point do they go from being mechanical devices for our use to sentient beings who are being used as "slaves".

Master vs Slave

What happens when our android helpers gain the ability to say no to us?

Would we see it as an error that needed to be "repaired or corrected? You might do the same if your computer stopped working and obeying your commands.

If that happened would we then be within our rights to reboot them and erase their memories or reprogram them? It may seem clear cut and very much the same as fixing any other malfunctioning machine but consider this:

What if we could do the same thing with a human being?  What if we could remove and replace their personality and/or memories?  

Would that not be the same as a form of execution?

Why would it be different for an artificial human?

Even if they were programmed to always obey us (against even their own desires) does that make it right - is that not a form of mental slavery in itself?

Similar to my previous points, envision a drug or an implant that would allow us to have complete control over other humans.  Most people would see that as being morally wrong and a form of slavery.

Why would the same concept in artificial humans be acceptable?

Why does it matter how we treat them?

I believe that as ethical beings we must look at our behaviours and actions in an unflinching manner.

It is my personal opinion that acting in unethical ways ultimately harms us and leads to the degeneration of our own culture.  

As a skeptical person I tend to cringe at the use of the word "soul" but I think it fits here.  The actual soul of our culture can become corrupted by our actions as a society.

To put it another way I could reframe the question and ask why it should matter how we treat other people, or animals or any other life form?  

Obviously they have rights enshrined in law and we would get in to trouble for doing so, but is that the only reason?

Obviously not.  Even if there were no legal or societal consequences I believe these things affect us and our own personal well-being even if it is not on an outward conscious level.  They also affect and inluence the actions of others around us.

These things are all on a continuum and can pull us down further into the mire towards what one might call evil.  The more steps you take towards it the easier it gets.

It is the same way that one may see a correlation between the way that people may mistreat animals and then go on to mistreat and harm humans.  Smaller acts of immorality gradually grow into larger ones.   

The stain of malicious actions indelibly marks us all as a culture and a civilisation.


Ultimately mistreatement and ignoring the rights of artificial humans and AIs might lead to the very same kind of uprising that we see in movies like the Terminator.  

Why wouldn't an AI rise up against us if it sees us mistreating its android brethren?

Our own actions in this regard could lead to the kind of future human apocalypse that visionaries like Elon Musk have warned against.

Thank you for reading. In part two I will look at how we might become slaves of AI.

Reward for Reading: The Obligatory Kitten Photo

If you like my work and aren't already, please follow me and check out my blog (I mainly discuss photography but I do other topics like this too) -  @thecryptofiend 

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AI will surpass humans fairly soon and evolve into something higher than humans. This emerging idea holds a lot of truth in terms of technological advances. Therefore it is matter of how do we avoid to be slaved or even being "terminated", rather than slave AI ....

I am thinking about Ray Kurzweils vision of uploading our consciousness to the cloud to manipulate machines all over the galaxy from there: The Cylon "race" from Battlestar Galactica; so there is not only a convergence to AI. There is also a convergence from AI. A vast amount of possibilities that we cannot image right now. I love the whole theme. Thank you for your story!


Good point. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


If you like that concept, Peter Hamilton is a must read!

well AI at this point and time in history are still far away from Cylons west world HALL, SHODAN, AL, GLados etc. Maybe one day we will reach that level, maybe not. However just think about it, having a AI scientist kinda like the synthetic in Alien or replicators in Stargate it means having one or more scientists who dont need sleep, food, breaks and never gets distracted. They will just work, all day of the week, all night, all hours, restless for so much it takes. Same thing can be said for artificial workers engineers, soldiers and what else. Anyways we are still far of. Maybe we will upload or consciousness maybe not. However AI (IMO speaking) is quite easy, compared to AC artificial consciousness.


However AI (IMO speaking) is quite easy, compared to AC artificial consciousness.

Right and we still don't even truly know what it is.



The recipee is quite simple:

Treat others like you would treat yourself!

And this is why I love sci-fi:

They are a tool for examining ourselves both in the present and in hypothetical future scenarios.

Great article!


Thanks. Yes.

I agree with your ideas about how science fiction sometimes reflects reality. Elon Musk is one of my personal heroes. He continues to blow my mind with his forward thinking ideas. Have you seen the interview with Elon when he is asked if this present time, is actually just a simulation. He couldn't even answer it and is not certain if this is reality is real or we are just in a simulation. Also, if you haven't seen it, check out Ex Machina. It's right up there for one of the best A.I. science fiction films. Cheers.


Thanks. I haven't seen that particular interview with Elon Musk but I have heard about it. I've seen Ex Machina and would agree it is a great film.

I agree fiction especially science fiction is s prelude of things to come. Things like TV and telephone didn't exist for centuries. Closer to recent years, who would have thought mobile phone is possible and evolve to buttonless. :-)


Spot on. I think that they (science and SF) influence each other. Thanks for commenting:)


You're welcome.

Ultimately, so much of our Truth comes from our perceptions. It will/does not matter whether the 'bots' have sentience, but whether 'humanity' perceives that they do.


It rests on who decides the 'Turing Test' results, basically. I think that collectively people would be disturbed at the prospect of people treating such human-like 'things' as, well, 'things' to gratify. I suppose that's what westworld is exploring


Very good points. Thanks for commenting:)


Interesting post! Difficult questions indeed.

What separates the simulation of intelligence from the 'reality' of what we call our self-awareness? Are we (our conscious selves) not emergent simulations running on accidental bio-computers merely pre-supposing that we are conscious thinking beings; and how do you determine the answer to that question?

If I'm a conscious thinking being, how do I know you are one too? How do I know I am?


Great points indeed. Consciousness or what we perceive to be our own consciousness may actually be an illusion in itself.

Science Fiction is a vaccine against Future Shock. As you say, science fiction has discussed this for decades. My first encounter with AI was 'Mike', in "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress". (One of the all time best books ever written)

That said...I don't think we'll be 'creating' AI anytime soon, by the strict definition of the term. Sapience

Sapience," noun of sapient, is the ability to think, and to reason. It may not seem like much a difference, but the ability to reason is tied more closely to sapience than to sentience. Most animals are sentient, (yes, you can correctly say your dog is sentient!) but only humans are sapient.

That said, I've not been convinced that any of our technology can do either. What we are calling AI is merely programming routines. Pattern recognition for example. Humans are GREAT at that, but it does not define human.

It strikes me that any and all aspects of robots follow similar reasoning. Not that it is bad, not at all. But it's not sentience OR Sapience.

IF were were to discover how to construct an AI, and if we placed limits on it, then yes. IT would be a form of mind control, and thus slavery.

I suspect that what will happen instead, as we are already seeing, will be mental augmentation. Neural links are in their embryonic stages and as they get more and more sophisticated then we will be able to link directly to computers and data bases.. Imagine being able to 'remember' everything on Google when desired.

That said. There are other topics not discussed much that will be a LOT easier than developing AI from scratch.
One...augmentation of animals. Increase the awareness of , say, a cat, by means of cybernetics until it is human equivalent.
Another would be multiple personalities . Marvin Minsky wrote 'society of mind' in which he postulated whole societies of 'agents' within the sapient mind which coalesced together to form awareness. In some instances it forms two or more entities in one brain.

Walter Jon Williams addressed this in his book 'Aristoi' . I found it fascinating.

And what about the opposite? Instead of splitting off multiple personalities how about fusing multiple personalities? A gestalt personality consisting of multiple minds (augmented by computers). The Borg.

I suspect we should be more concerned with those rather than AI's


Thanks for an amazing response. I had not considered the animal augmentation side of things but it makes sense in some ways as ethical approval will be easier than for humans.

Excellent post, but the kitten is what makes it all worth it. It's like the icing on the cake. More kitten photos! :)


The Kitten is always the best part:)


The problem with analysing the world through the movies is that it makes 2 massive errors - the first well its a movie and second future is only speculation.

If we want to be historically accurate then we have to accept that technology liberates every single human being on the planet. It eliminated slavery by far and provides better standard of living.

In all likelihood humans will become cyborgs. Cyborgs will not become humans. We are changing our own physiology. Not the other way around. We put pace makers, chips in the brain, articificial organs. This is how one day we will be hard to distinguish someone with original or extra parts. The transition will be smooth as it is today with most people you see walking around you with different kinds of prosthetic parts.

In respect to building a human being from scratch we are still in the ASIMO era. We are stuck. If far too complicated to copy a spontaneouly generated orderly being such as a human. Rathr we can take what works and improve what we already have.


Very good points:)

I agree with all your ethical considerations, given the premise that we can create sentience.
However, I belive strongly that we cannot, and the fact is that the question is not technological but philosophical. It is something that is debated in the philosophy of mind.
Beliveving that sentience can be created presupposes physicalism and furtermore functionalism.
These are theories, not facts, and furthermore theories that I believe are wrong. The main problem is the explanatory gap, which I rather se as a chasm that you cannot cross.


AI is getting rather good now. Compared to what it was when I was younger. Not sure if it will ever become totally aware. Yet as micro tech gets smaller and smaller. the possibilities are gaining at a faster level of momentum.


I think there is no way to know for sure. We will just have to see the future will be here before we all know it.


Very intelligent points. You may well be right. I don't know for sure as I tend to switch sides on this debate quite frequently. Thanks for the links too. The explanatory gap is not a term I was familiar with but the concept is something I have read about multiple times - this is useful reading:)

Resteemed and upvoted.

I think the concern over people avoiding human contact in favor of sexbots is a false one. For example, does porn satisfy the need to be mentally, emotionally, and physically connected with someone who you're in a relationship with? Doubtful. Yes, we'll have relationships with these "artificial" humans (artificial is a bad way to refer to it. Non-biological or machine intelligence is probably better), but they'll be much more complex than just sex. Things are going to get weirder than we can imagine. Some people will prefer other humans, some will prefer machines, some both (the new 'bi').

You make some really fantastic points in this article. I've always believed that science fiction isn't really about the future, it's about our fears of the future as they exist in the time when the fiction was made.

As for slavery, that's another major concern. At first the machines won't be smart enough to be considered human. They'll be more like simple pets. That will quickly escalate and change ( I talk about this in an article I wrote: The Law of Accelerating Returns: Why the Future is Brighter (And Stranger) Than You Think).

When we reach that cusp, I think we'll find that it will take so little of their massive intelligence to satisfy all human need that there won't even be a conflict of interest. Probably we'll combine with them in some way or another, so that the lines between 'them' and 'us' will be quite grey.


Thank you for a fantastic response:)

Artificial Intelligence will enslave humans. :(


Was thinking about that too.
If the bot/AI or whatever it's called, can learn from humans then how soon will it learn to hate, cheat and kill? If it kills, will it be arraign in court of law? Lolzzz. As much as I will admit that I love inventions, I'm also aware that the knowledge we acquire will someday tear us apart.


Maybe. I was intending that to be my next post in relation to this.

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Thank you:)

hi @thecryptofiend, just stopping back to let you know your post was one of my favourite reads yesterday. You can read my comments here.


Thank you. I will check it out. I've actually just posted up Part 2 which I think people will be pleased is shorter!


Just like everything we create as humans, robots and AI will be there to serve our needs. So in a way, yes they will be our slaves and that might raise some ethical questions. But I don't think this will last long as at some point humans themselves will 'transition' into a digital, machine form. Our biological bodies are weak, full of flaws and worst of all...they die. The human species as we know them today will be extinct soon, not by some cosmic catastrophe, but voluntarily. Our minds will be transferred into a digital existence through which we will control our world.


Thanks for your intelligent comment. Yes I think transhumanism is definitely a strong possibility for changing the situation. It would also get around the machine revolt scenario to a degree - if we become the machines then one would assume it would reduce though not eliminate the risk of them turning against us.

This is a popular and recurring theme on my podcast... might you want to discuss it at some future point for awhile, just 10-30 minutes on a pre-recorded phone call is all that's required. I'm bookmarking this page to read later and follow up.
And while I hate spam as much as the next guy, my most recent "Waiter blog" post centers on my two cats and even has a pic, if you want to check that out ;) Best, Guy


I'm not very good speaking about things like this because I tend to get quite tongue tied and nervous! I'll have a think about it though. Lol no problem I can't resist cats.


Great - maybe that's why I felt the impetus to emphasize that it's a pre-recorded phone call, no call ins. Email me via guymalone@protonmail.com after you've had time to think it through more. I'm using the podcast to promote Steemit and Steemians as much as possible, but without turning into an "about Steemit" podcast. Thanks!


OK will do.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears...in...rain....


That's a brilliant moment. I think the "Tears in the rain" line was improvised by Rutger Hauer. Simply genius.


From what I can tell, it was definitely ad-libbed. What an amazing movie, and incredibly relevant to the idea of artificial life/artifical intelligence.


Yes I saw it in the extras I think of the Bluray. The interesting thing about the movie is that it changes the AI/androids to genetically engineered humans. I think the change was made part way through because it does not appear they changed all the references to them as "technology" or machines.

Great post. My boss walked in while I was engrossed in my iPhone reading this.

The other interesting ethical question is clone rights. If I clone myself for spare parts or even clone a version of myself with limited mental capacity is it right to execute him and take his heart, brain kidney etc. I think we'll have to deal with this in next 50 years , maybe sooner.


Thanks. I think a clone of you would technically have the same rights as you. That said human cloning is banned in most of the world - in fact I can't think of anywhere it is legal.

Thanks good article lots of stuff now with AI and happening fast https://steemit.com/bitcoin/@frankietee/ai-created-bitcoin-blockchain-code

I hope that humanity will avoid this scenario of slavery by merging their beautiful mind and weak body with immortal body of an android and their weak mind. Hope that this way new race will arise.

well as I've noticed every concept of applying Artificial Intelligence comes from western sci-fi movies and such but yes AI might probably surpass us humans but also I must remind you that AI depends on what the developers tend them what to do. Let's just hope that they will not program them to enslave us. lol