Robot autonomy and religion

So, the presentation today (A.I. vs autonomy) really got me thinking.  I wanted to ask this question, but I wasn’t quite sure that I could phrase it properly.  So I’m going to post it here for anyone to answer:

What (if any) relationships exist between religious beliefs and beliefs on A.I.?

In my experience, SF typically separates itself from religions except where a point is being made.  But since Artificial Intelligence in general is a comment on existentialism, I think this discussion is completely reasonable.  Robots/A.I./Androids don’t become life until they are turned on, so the existence precedes self (as they said in the presentation, they are not thought to have souls), whereas in many religions the immortal soul precedes our existence on earth.  People with these beliefs would probably have trouble accepting artificial life as sentient or equal.

I realize that on some level all of the fiction dealing with A.I. is a comment on this.  What I’m asking (and I’m looking at you, people who presented on this) is, are there any works that specifically and undeniably make comments on this? Are there any stories where this clash of beliefs occur, or essays where they discuss it in depth?

And, to hopefully get some discussion going, what does everyone else think of this?

The Uncanny Valley in Narratives

I’ll be talking about the dramatic implications of the Uncanny Valley which is normally technical problem found in video games, animation and robotics. For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, please watch from the 0:00 to the 2:15 mark of the video embedded below. The remainder of the video suggests ways to avoid the Uncanny Valley when creating video games which is unnecessary for this blog post but is interesting in its own right. Anyways, for those of you already familiar with the Uncanny Valley, just skip over that.

This theory is mostly concerned when it comes to the appearance of something but the same principles can be applied to characterization in narratives. Specifically, an inhuman acting human is likeable while a human acting inhuman is unlikeable. To demonstrate this, I’ll be looking at three characters from the animated T.V. show, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. All you need to know is that the show takes place in a futuristic Japan where cyborgs, androids, and A.I. are all common place.

Pictured below are a robot, a humanoid robot and a human. I ordered them based on my color preference to mix them up and I want you to guess which one is which.

Hint: The one in the middle is a robot.
Hint: The one in the middle is a robot.

On the left, is Motoko Kusanagi and while she is technically human, her entire original body is gone, replaced by cybernetics. She acts coldly and logically, and remains stoic for the majority of the show and because of this almost robotic nature of hers, she is often unlikable despite being recognizable as a human.

On the right, is a secretarial gynoid which is indistinguishable from a normal, happy human being upon first meeting. However, when she is presented with a situation she was not programmed to handle, her responses become limited and stuttered, making her robotic nature readily apparent and she becomes just plain creepy.

Finally, we have the robot in the middle called a Tachikoma which is arguably one of the most expressive characters in the show despite its appearance. It is curious, excitable, happy, troublesome and everything else you would expect of a child. At one point, it tries to get approval from its role model figure by acting more robotic which involves stiff, emotionless dialogue.3edit
That doesn’t work and after literally four seconds, the robot finds it too difficult to act like a robot. Not only is this hilarious but it is also touching because of how humanizing it is. While there are human characters in the show that act like a human would, this Tachikoma and its brethren often overshadow them. Simply put, a normal human being acting normal is mundane and boring while an inhuman acting human is instantly memorable.

Basically, this is one giant science fiction experiment in what we can empathize with. Cyberpunk often deals with the question of what it means to be human. Robots become human-like and humans become cybernetic or beyond that and the ability to empathize with others despite the growing differences is what keeps society running. If we can empathize with things we don’t consider to be human than we should also be able to empathize with other people.

All screen caps taken from Episode 15 of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: SAC, originally aired May 1, 2003 and directed by Kenji Kamiyama.

Don’t Explain Away the Fun

Let’s operate under the assumption that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is science fiction, though after discussions about plausibility it seems less and less likely that it actually is.

No doubt aliens are going to be weird, but I don't think they're going to be this weird
No doubt aliens are going to be weird, but I don’t think they’re going to be this weird

One of the greatest things about writing science fiction is that almost anything goes, as long as you stay within the realm of what is currently common knowledge about science. Martian Time Slip and the other Mars stories we read would not float now, because we know that we cannot breathe on Mars. If the story takes place far enough in the future, a writer can make up anything and call it “science,” something Doctor Who tends to do very well.

The last human
The last human

Douglas Adams does this as well. What he does in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is he assumes the reader knows that the story takes place in a ridiculous science fiction universe, then he just rolls with it. Time travel exists? “There was an accident with a time machine and a contraceptive,” leaving a character titled “Zaphod Beeblebrox the First” while his father was the second, his grandfather was the third, and so on.

I personally like both representations of Zaphod
I personally like both representations of Zaphod

In the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a diner can watch the universe end and be back in their own time afterwards, paying for their meal by depositing a penny in a savings account and letting it accumulate interest. Adams does not feel the need to explain his strange universe with science, or indeed with anything. A reader must instead simply accept everything as true.

Especially these two pieces of advice
Especially these two pieces of advice

What do you think? Do these non-scientific explanations still count as science fiction, or does there need to be some sort of actual science as a base to create the plausibility? There would need to be an awful lot of complicated science to explain what Douglas Adams gets away with.

Photo Sources

Mos Def as Ford Prefect, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, 2005

Cassandra, or the last human, from Doctor Who, “The End of the World,” 2005

Sam Rockwell and Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (2005) and TV series (1981) respectively

Shirt pattern referencing classic advice from the novel

Visual Aspects in Science Fiction

It has been my experience that for many people, popular science fiction (as well as other genres, but we won’t go there) is split up into two categories: books and movies. Images are so important in science fiction: the reader or the viewer wants to know exactly what the alien/space ship/planet looks like, and sometimes this can be difficult to get across in a novel.

Seriously, this is described as looking like a running shoe
This is described as looking like a running shoe

Sometimes, even the most excruciating detail won’t get across to the reader exactly what the author pictures in his or her imagination, and this can be frustrating for a reader who is used to seeing science fiction films. Imagine reading a novelization of the movie Avatar; descriptions of the Na’vi and Pandora, no matter how precise, could never be as rich as the stunning visuals that James Cameron creates. When watching a movie, the “descriptions” appear to the viewer all at once, without having to read a page about how Jake appreciates how the forest lights up at night and interacts with Neytiri.

People who are used to images like these try to make the jump from screen to page to absorb more science fiction, yet the transition can be bumpy. I read Ender’s Game before watching the movie, so I was able to see all the aspects of the world I loved come to life. Others who watched the film then read the novel may have been startled by the lack of description after watching such a beautiful movie.

Let's be serious: which one looks more interesting?
Let’s be serious: which one looks more interesting?

I personally love reading science fiction, as I love imagining the weird and the wonderful. However, it is still fantastic to see science fiction come to life fully in a movie and to let those images wash over me.

Video Source:

Avatar Trailer (2009)

Photo Sources:

Heart of Gold spaceship, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

Ender’s Game book cover; Ender’s Game movie poster

So I was watching Green Lantern AS…

I like when science fiction considers Einstein’s theory of the universe being held by a blanket. To explain this theory appropiately, its like a puting a bowling ball on a mattress, allowing security for the planets, satelites(moons), and most importantly sun(s) orbits. I wont go further than that, but what if this blanket is torn, would it challenge interdimensional travel. In the 16th episode, Steam Lantern of Green Lantern, Hal Jordan gets sucked into a dimensional tear(often the theory for the fourth dimension, for time is the suns energy, duh) entering a parallel universe where steam is the main source of energy, and its only known element is hardtofindium. This is a source of power for the Steam Lantern’s gear, nuclear power that is. There’s a kid on Youtube who has made sense of the 4th dimension, as it could be theorized as a Rubics cube minus the constant shuffles and turns, making you think. But anyway he explains it better, my form of physics is weight distribution. Dimensions are toppled ontop of eachother, in turn questioning whats on the otherside of the mirror. Speculative fiction maybe, or Paul Bettany talking through a phone to make it sound like he’s Stark’s interface. Awesome kid. Take a look.

Lets get inside of Dick’s Head.

Let’s explore the word phantasm shall we. As far as I know, its definition is the figments of the imagination. An individual’s escape creating transitions from earthly realities into farfetched fantasies, often embedded in the writings of science fiction; synonymous with eclectic, not experimental. Philip K. Dick is an exception, for his experiments were to take LSD, and everybody’s favourite mush. Dick undoubtedly would watch his face change scaly and lizard-like under these hallucinogens, encouraging the change Arnie Kotts endures in his time slip, minus waking up naked in men in a shower. My roommate was watching a documentary on San Francisco’s Tenderloin, where drug use of the 60s transformed a once beautiful sector into the seventh layer of hell. Once thriving now surrounded by abandoned bathhouses reformed into homoerotic brothels; crack heads outside coffee shops, sipping medium roast, lighting up and talking about politics. Drug use does attribute to schizophrenia and drugs produced to supress schizophrenic/bipolar delusions attributed to autism. I suggest reading the first DSM (1952), ignorance at its best; homosexuality is a sociopathic personality disturbance. It wasn’t until 1968 autism and other mental disordered were taken seriously in the DSM II. Now back to the fantastic figments of phantasms, for Dick, presumably, wanted to elaborate on imagination of those legitimately sick; alcohol and cigarettes attributing to retardation, inducing the wide spectrum we have in today’s DSM V (2013). With this said, Philip K. Dick must have seen this one in his figments of imagination. Seriously, where was Nancy Reagan in the 60s?

Device 6

So mostly I thought it would be fun to talk about games. More specifically apps. More specifically, science fiction-y apps. Because we live in an increasingly multi-media world, and the question of how much technology is good is one present in some science fiction plots. The merging of video game with phone/ipod/ipad ect seems to have its own science fiction element, an idea that Device 6 plays with.

I highly recommend this game, but talking about why Device 6 is such a neat hybrid will get a bit spoiler-y.  But here’s the launch trailer:

The game is divided up into chapters, and at the start of each chapter you are presented with a mandatory multiple choice question such as:

This, coupled with the opening where you are instructed to read the “software license agreement” feels like a comment on the way we interact with technology and legally binding information. When choosing whether to accept or decline the Terms and Conditions on, say, Facebook, the choice doesn’t really feel like it’s there. Sure, you can renounce all technology and live secluded, or you can spend days reading legal jargon, or you can click accept and hope for the best (Not the best plan, but the choice I think most of us make). In Device 6 the drive to discover how the story will unfold (the drive to stay a part of the game’s world) pushes you forward and you complete what you are faced with.

This theme is pushed to the max at the end of the game when the final screen gives you the ‘option’ of exchanging your points for one of a series of items. Guess what. You can only chose one item, and that item brings you full circle to the start of the game.

Device 6 also explores technology, and the implications of gaming itself through your inclusion into the narrative. The most interesting part of the game, I think, is how it unfolds.

The other piece of this game is that it is almost entirely text-based. There are interactive puzzles, and different images that you will scroll past, but most of the game is based on reading. This hybridity between game and novel is fascinating, play it and you’ll see.

But mostly I think this game plays with the idea of technology taking over reality, which is a theme present in science fiction. By having the game on such an easily accessible platform, the message becomes more powerful.