What makes us human? We consider this question firmly from the Uncanny valley.
Join us in the uncanny valley. If the figure pictured here acts human, looks human, and interacts with humans, is she human?
Replicants, Androids, & Cyborgs — Oh My!
On the heels of the Bladerunner 2049 release, the Edgy Labs team started mulling over the philosophy of AI rather than the economic implications of it. Instead of asking “How will automation affect the U.S. job market?”, we found ourselves asking, “Does Erica the Japanese Android like badminton?”
Erica’s reactions are still a bit limited and her physical capabilities are far from that of Rachel’s in the original Bladerunner or Android 18 in Dragon Ball Z. But Erica raises important questions regarding identity and empathy: what’s her pronoun and should we care?
Many people automatically refer to Erica as a female because she looks like a female. But Erica is just a robot, right?
Ghost in the Shell: Second Gig raises questions of gender when it casually mentions that the Major (Motoko Kusanagi) chose the body she’s currently occupying. This means that she chose to present as female. Her team sometimes questions this choice throughout the series, but it’s undeniable that she’s the boss and she’s a total badass.
Beyond physically or emotionally identifying as any gender, people (read: cyborgs) like Major Kusanagi wrestle with their humanity vs. their tech.
In the case of Erica the Japanese Android, at what point does the algorithm become her thoughts?
Heavy Shower Thoughts: What it Means to Be Human
Ancient philosophers like Plato argued that our capacity for rational thought made us human.
Philosophers like Francis Bacon waxed intellectual about ants, spiders, and bees. Carl Jung gave us psychological archetypes and Sigmund Freud gave us numerous sex jokes and ways to make family Christmas super uncomfortable.
But all of these men grappled with the question: what makes a human a human?
If complex thought is all it takes, then rudimentary robots that exist today are human (with the grey area being the fact that humans programmed them). If choosing to save five people over one in the face of an oncoming train proves you are “more human”, does an android programmed to make that decision qualify?
The answer, as Ghost in the Shell and other cyberpunk stories show us, doesn’t really exist. Truth seems to be subjective, despite what an Ayn Rand novel might suggest.
Existence, thought, morality, humanity, a soul–all of these things are separate entities that don’t have to coexist. There are plenty of humans who make “inhuman” decisions every day, right?
The question is not “Can AIs ever become human?”
The question is: “Can you really define what ‘being human’ really means?”
Is it how you take your coffee or how you hold a pen? Is it the fact that you beat yourself up about not riding your bike enough?
Maybe, it is you as a child, sitting on the floor and crying, because another child broke your favorite toy. It is definitely those moments when you’re sleep deprived at the Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 AM telling yourself, “I’m going to regret this cheesy gordita crunch in the morning”?
Is it anything beyond the word “Human”?
Don’t Fret About Skynet Just Yet
The philosophy behind the definition of humanity and how it relates to artificial intelligence is in its infancy. We can’t even agree on the true nature of our own species after centuries of critical thought.
But, as with many philosophical quagmires, the answer may not be the most important aspect of the formula. Asking the question keeps us rooted to ourselves (for better or worse) and it allows us to constantly self-evaluate, adapt, and grow.
Beyond these amorphous questions with pseudo-answers, you have legitimate fears of AI and robot uprisings. Elon Musk and others like him went so far as to found a group called OpenAI charged with creating human-concerned AI software.
The likelihood of Skynet is questionable, but companies are already working to prevent just this occurrence.