AI Pt. 3 - Yes, Still

With all this talk about AI, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the recent Dr Who two-parter, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People.  These episodes concerned something called the Flesh, a substance that can be used for the most comprehensive form of telepresence imaginable, and which is used to provide body-doubles for a crew working around the most potent of acids.  The episodes' plot concerns the effects of a solar storm on the Flesh, which causes the gelatinous mass to take on the memories and personalities of those humans who have been using it, producing nearly exact duplicates.  And of course, this would hardly be a Dr Who story if those duplicates weren't initially feared and hated, though Amy's particularly harsh reaction towards one of them seems a bit much, really.  This is quite the fall for a woman who instinctively recognized both the pain and the goodness of a tortured star-whale.

The AI in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People is in some ways the most unlikely of artificial intelligence, and in some ways perhaps the most doable.  The science is a total write-off, of course; this is Dr Who, after all, patenter of the 'Timey-Wimey Ball' and psychic paper.  But the gist of it is that the Flesh is a biological compound, capable of cell division and replication, that maps the entirety of a human body and replicates it to produce a copy of it, albeit one that apparently lacks pain receptors for the human operators.  If the specifics are a little less than likely, however, there's something in the general idea that humans have been thinking of for some time, now.

Um... No.

The replication of a specific human consciousness into a non-human vessel is probably not what most people think of when they think of AI.  But it would be hard to think of a way in which it did not meet whatever definitions someone would care to offer for artificial intelligence.  Unlike traditional (which is to say, robotic) AI, however, human-replication AI would bring with it a host of very different moral issues and considerations, not to mention a very different risk of abuse.

I mentioned in a previous post that it seemed unlikely people would seriously mistreat sentient robots or computers, for the simple reason that the former represent a large investment that person has themselves made, and the latter would have entirely too much power over an increasingly-computerized society.  Replicated consciousness, however, is a very different story.  The platforms might be expensive, but ultimately they'd be regarded as disposable, or at least replaceable, and because the mind/OS would be that of a pre-existing human, which would either be safely transferrable or just a copy of a human still active in the world, there would be very little immediate moral issue with damaging or even destroying them, provided there was some kind of return for that damage. With that as a starting point, replicated consciousness would face a great deal more hostility from 'normal' humans if and when it should ever achieve independent sentience and seek to assert its rights.  It would be one thing for a non-human sentience to rise to the level of human, but a very different thing for a de-humanized sentience to return to equality with humans.  From women to the mentally handicapped to African-Americans to homosexuals, the 20th and 21st centuries have seemed to be one long fight for equality from those sections of our own species that we've carefully and specifically de-humanized.  And there's no reason to assume sentient human-replicas would find things any easier when they started demanding rights of their own.

Expect to see a lot of this.

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