Friday, August 28, 2015

Futurist Friday: All Too Human

To add to your TV viewing list: Humans, a new eight part series on AMC. (You can watch all eight episodes online if you have an account with any one of a number of providers.) 

The show is set is set in a "present day future"--business as currently usual with one twist: a company that builds and sells "synths."  These realistic humanoid robots are equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence and some turn out to be self-aware. 

As has been true from the dawn of TV sci-fi (notably the original Star Trek series), this futurist premise is used as a lens with which to examine very real contemporary issues, for example:

  • What is the natural conclusion of our trend towards automation of work? Robots are already taking over jobs in a variety of fields, notably manufacturing. Robots are stronger, faster, tireless (and don't go on strike).Algorithms are being used to write news articles and legal briefs and prepare tax returns. Heated debates are taking place on the role of autonomous control of airplanes (or, to flip the question, the role of human pilots) and in the near future, of cars. What happens when technology endows machines with at least the appearance of the empathy and compassion that have buffered the so-called "caring professions" from automation? (Such robots are already in development.) Or when artificial intelligence can do work that to all intents and purposes is "creative"? (e-David is already challenging that boundary.)
  • What are the rights of self-aware, non-human beings (living or non-living)? As I noted in an earlier post, this year a court in Argentina granted an Orangutan named Sandra the right to "life, liberty and freedom from harm." In 2012, New Zealand granted a river "rights of personhood"  and appointed legal (human) custodians to represent its interests. It's harder to dismiss these issues when they are presented by an entity that looks, feels and acts just like us. For example, does it constitute rape (or infidelity) to have sex with a synth? Does yes mean yes when consent is dictated by programming?
  If you aren't ready to turn on the tube (or flip open your iPad) read this excellent review of the series by Adrian Cull over on the futurist site IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies). And please do write in with your own review, below. 

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