Sunday, August 25, 2013


I am working on a Science Fiction story. The story has to do with strong artificial intelligence. I've been looking into how other people have portrayed and created their artificial intelligence. In the past few days I've watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Elementary, Dear Data, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Measure of a Man, and will watch WALL·E later on this afternoon. I've also asked people questions along the lines of, "If someone created a robot that is capable of thinking and acting like us, would this robot be a person?" A lot of people answered quickly and confidently, 'No.'

Reasons I got for why there were varied. They aren't flesh and blood. They were built by humans. They reflect consciousness, they do not possess it. They don't have souls. They were not created by God. They are not sentient. Probably others which I cannot remember.

Honestly (and probably inappropriately) I was surprised by the inclination to disagree with a strong artificial intelligence being's status of person. Generally (I think) people feel bad for robotic characters when bad things happen to them. Many, many people have told me they cried during A.I. Artificial Intelligence. WALL·E I imagine will be an example of a strong emotional connection to the character. Plenty of people feel for The Iron Giant, Data, R2-D2, Sonny, Marvin (My personal favorite), and even HAL 9000.

How can you, on one hand, connect deeply with these characters, and on the other, not attribute to them peopleness?

I've considered them people for a while, probably, but most notably I realized my stance while reading through Penny Arcade's Automata run. "No Heart No Soul No Service." Genius. I believe in the idea of the soul, and I would say that's the argument against strong A.I. that best suits my outlook on life, but I'm not sure it's infallible. Check out Wikipedia's first sentence on the subject.

The soul, in many religious, philosophical, psychological, and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and, in many conceptions, immortal essence of a person, living thing, or object.

That sounds like an apt description of an artificially intelligent being, along with us beings of 'authentic' intelligence. Actually, it kind of sounds like the description of an artificially intelligent being to me, but that could be just because that sounds like the description of a being to me. The article does go on to explain different interpretations of what the soul is and who/what can possess one, and under certain definitions things such as robots are incapable of acquiring a soul. Still, some definitions fit, and I think that's interesting.

I've known from the beginning that I'm going to treat my A.I. characters like people, so this investigation wasn't wholly necessary (I mean, look at Toy Story, those were pretty peoplesque and no one really had a problem with it). Fiction is a place where you can get away with a lot of things, and that's why I like it so much. I do, however, intend on having characters that don't see AIndividuals as people, so getting that perspective and the reasoning behind it was important. Also, I wanted to investigate why I feel like these characters are people (hoping it wasn't simply projection).

So, why do I see them as people? I think I've figured it out. Explaining it here wouldn't do it justice though. You'll have to read my fiction to understand.

I really enjoyed most of the things I watched this weekend, but unless WALL·E blows me away, I'm going to have to recommend A.I. Artificial Intelligence most highly. Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions (most of which I didn't get to but still plan on watching), and please feel free to engage me in a conversation on this subject. I would be most pleased.