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:
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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