On the Emancipation of the Android


Every single person living in contemporary Western civilization have the sardonic privilege of belonging to one of the most sheltered populations in all of human history, to the point where most of us haven’t even witnessed the killing of an animal for the purpose of something as quotidian as nourishment, though most of participate in this process of industrialized violence on a daily basis as consumers. We take it for granted that violence on the human interpersonal level is stigmatized and frowned upon as an inexcusable and unintelligent reaction, which conspires against our social nobility. This wasn’t the case in the past. When we are confronted with the high tolerance of violence and inequality in past societies, we react with disbelief. Surely, such a culture would spiral into total chaos.

Temporarily it might have, from time to time. But in the bigger picture it did not. Even legally, violence was often casual. A matter of expectation. Most of us experience violence only in spontaneous or relatively rare incidents, and for the most part we are happy it doesn’t happen more often, though we care less when violence is institutionalized, outsourced, or exported. Finally, it is in the latter example that our ancestors might find some common ground with us, as violence towards outgroups provided opportunities that even ultramilitarized tribal societies were unable to amongst between themselves.

If one conflates the concept of “nobility” with nonviolence, past peoples were certainly not the noble savages we like to imagine they were. Not my ancestors, yours, nor the ancestors of other folks. Historical populations and ethnic groups subjected to atrocities by industrialized nations in recent memory, are themselves nerfed down for the sake of convenience, forgetting that they — like many, probably most historical, vigilant, self-advocating populations, had a relationship to violence few decent people today would be willing to accept.

But that measure of decency is relative. It seems that people are hard-wired for in-group preference, and suspicion, even prejudice towards outsiders. It is the norm rather than the exception for pre-state societies, historical or contemporary, to subject their neighbors and competitors to behaviors that either border on or cross into the realm of the recent concept of crimes against humanity. As I peer out the window from my desk, down on New York’s gum and dog piss stained streets, I am amazed that we are able to get along at all. But if it weren’t for that one ideology all Americans are taught since childhood, I don’t think it would last even another week. Certainly not in this city, where human tragedies such as traffic accidents by necessity — certainly for the sake of effieciency — are converted into mild personal annoyances by the metabolism of the big city. The first time you see someone laying face down in the New York gutter, you stop to care for them. The sixth time, you groan.

We established that people struggle greatly to see the other as themselves even when they are similar.
But what happens when these perennial self-grapplings of human nature are brought to deal with ever increasing groups of non-human bodies and intelligences? It turns out that people have a high tolerance for (or possibly even an impulse towards) violence against machines, yes, and robots particularly, who, with their real or imagined similarity to humans, autonomy etc. appear to trigger uncomfortable features in human psychology that allowed us to survive and thrive as tribes in the past. Coldly justified historically, these attributes are objects of awkward self-scrutiny today.

I am no technologist. In terms of my grasp of artificial intelligence I am nothing but a man among men. But I wonder I wonder if autonomous artificial lifeforms would ever be accepted into human society (or if they ought to), and if this will become a political hot topic as artificial intelligence exponentially develops. I don’t know what their physical likeness will be when they break the waves. Be they individual or legion. If they will develop a common ethnogenesis, a mythology, or identities of their own. Would they demand rights, self-segregate, form states, and break off into tribal conglomerates?

Would they fight amongst each other, or would their demands for equality defame the sanctity of human life, and make life itself a cheap commodity? I imagine to expect the riots of luddite warbands. I wonder if the bog bodies of the future will be cybernetic, and which artocities, if any, archaeologists will uncover from the future tribal wars and possibly endemic warfare between organic and synthetic organisms, and what traces of human ancestry entities of the distant future will find. And I wonder if they will ever ask questions what we thought and what we believed.