Humanity’s Extinction: The Loss of the Human form for the Artificial One
The idea of what makes mankind human has always been a topic of interest for me. Some of my favorite movies, tv shows, and books take this into account, but instead look to see when one can be human vs artificial. I plan on looking to see how other science fiction and speculative fiction take this idea further by examining the very nature of cybernetic augmentation and at what point one loses their sense of humanity or, alternatively, when artificial intelligence attains this sense of humanity as well as presenting the testimony of experts on this topic to help in explaining it.
Humanity is an exceedingly difficult word to define. When I think about what it means to be human, I often imagine a regular person with morals and feelings like myself. This definition, however, has started to become slightly more complex. When AI is getting to a point where it can mimic our actions and perform commands that indicate a higher intelligence then even ourselves, how can a human mind and AI really be all that different? Slipper and More provide an example using the medical profession when they state, “It is not hard to imagine an advanced med-coach, where the patient relaxes comfortably while Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms diagnose the irksome hairline fracture, whereupon a 3D printer produces a cast, which a robotic arm proceeds to place posthaste. And all this done sans human.” (1). If we look at what they are discussing and apply it to an AI with advanced enough systems that can simulate humans, the role of diagnosing others and applying the proper procedures as a doctor would do, would that not be any different than a mind and soul without a body? Who’s to say that not all these actions could be done by one machine with the ability to think and feel like a human can?
Ghost in the Shell shows another related idea with the character of the Puppet Master. The main character of the film and manga is entirely cybernetic except for her human brain. However, the puppet master, who is the main villain, is able to permanently gain access to her brain, by hacking into it, and lives alongside her as a separate consciousness, sort of like a multiple personality disorder patient. When one loses all aspects of his/her human body except their brain and then has this hacked into, would not both presences, the human mind and the artificial one, be seen as being equally human? Huang and Rust describe a similar notion in their work about AI replacing human jobs.
Rust and Huang state that, “Eventually, AI will be capable of performing even the intuitive and empathetic tasks, which enable innovative ways of human machine integration for providing service but also results in a fundamental threat of human employment.” (1). Part of our day to day lives is the ability to perform a task that only certain people are capable of doing. Whenever the idea of automation comes up, it is stating that a machine is better suited to take on a human task, such as building or diagnosing. If AI becomes advanced enough to perform all the tasks that a normal human would perform, what really sets it apart from us? One might argue that since a machine has taken on a human position, they are more human than you, in terms of being able to do human labor. While my claim does not show that the AI has human feelings or a soul, this is not too far off.
Blade Runner 2049 examines this very idea. There is a character within the film named Joi. She is an advanced holographic AI that takes the place of a physical romantic partner for the main character of the movie. She is able to experience complex human emotions like grief, happiness, longing, and love, despite the fact that she lacks a human body and the ability to move independently of the flash drive she inhabits. Like AI replacing human jobs, this film presents the idea of AI replacing human relations. When one does not have to undertake the complex journey of finding a compatible romantic partner, but can instead have an advanced AI programmed that is capable of feeling and experiencing nearly all things a normal human can, except physical intimacy, what really makes the artificial partner different from a human partner? Oskar Gruenwald feels there is still a great deal of problems here when he says, “Are we, then, at the threshold of exchanging the complexity of genuine relationships with other human beings for the artificial relationships with machines that can be programmed to feign human emotions?” (7). By using words like genuine, one can see that he feels AI will be unable to surpass the emotional complexity of a human being, due to its limited understanding of complex situations,
A not so advanced emotion feeling AI is also shown in the work Somebody Up there Likes Me. Ralph Lombregia writes, “A high-pitched squeal was emerging from the thing. An oscilloscope portrayed the computer’s demise in ghostly green wiggles-lots of waves, lines with some waves, nothing but lines…‘He’s an abuse tester,’ I whispered to Boyce. ‘You didn’t tell me that. He kills computers for a living.’” (228). The verbage that the author uses here implies that the machine is more human than current computers. His usage of words like ‘squeal’, ‘demise’, ‘abuse’, and ‘death’ all point to the idea that the AI is advanced enough to feel pain, suffer, and die, as if it were a living organism. The way the main character feels about the destruction of the computer implies that he sees it as being alive and Mickey acting as a murderer. If AI can become so human-like that we question its artificiality, can the opposite of this take place? Can a human lose nearly all aspects of its humanity to the point where he/she is now artificial?
This very idea of eventually losing one’s humanity to the machine is usually mentioned when dealing with prosthesis or bodily augmentation, which is similar to the topic that the author Stefan Greiner mentions in his work. Greiner states that, “This advance in the history of prosthetics is important to note because it marks the moment when the inside/outside view of the human body began to blur. Myoelectric and, nowadays, nanotechnology-based neuroelectronic interfaces are basically following in this tradition and make the inappropriateness of distinguishing a biological body from its technical extensions even more obvious.” (300-301). Here, Greiner is claiming that we are becoming more and more cybernetic in nature overall and that this makes us look inward and outward at ourselves and question how human we really are. By using a word like blur, he is implying that it is difficult to tell when one is still human or machine when this augmentation enters into the mix.
Stone Lives examines a similar idea with his prosthesis. Stone’s new eyes give him the ability to see all the world around him, as well as different ways of seeing that are of a non-human variety. He mentions how his augment has caused him to lose his heightened hearing and smelling that he had cultivated while living in the poorer region. Since this was what made him part of who he was, does his losing of this because of the augment imply that he has lost some of his humanity as well? Like what Greiner said, can we really look at ourselves as still being human when we see artificial augments on our bodies? We may still possess human emotions and tendencies, but do we not also lose pieces of ourselves that make us less of who we once were? Ghost in the Shell examines this idea further.
As I mentioned in an earlier paragraph, Major Motoko, the main character, is entirely cybernetic except for her very human brain. She works as a crime fighter for the Japanese government. Her coworkers are also augmented to varying degrees, one is as augmented as her while another is entirely human in nature. These varying degrees of augmentation allow the viewer to get an idea of at what point they feel the human has become the machine. Another aspect that makes the human more like the artificial is its ability to travel along the net like an AI does when searching the web. Hyewon Shin claims, however, that her humanity is still retained in his essay about the film. She claims that, “The voice, a material sign of identity and human property, is an ambiguous vestige of disembodied presence: the ghost. It is a simulacrum, an echo, an effect of life in Ghost in the Shell. The ‘bodiless’ voice throughout the net seems to imitate the theological self-presence of a spirit.” (10). The author here seems to be stating that since the soul is able to travel along the net, the human still exists, even when it is not connected to a body. By describing it as such, it almost seems that the author is claiming the soul to be like artificial intelligence. While explaining that the soul traveling is still proving human existence, it travels along the artificial medium that AI utilizes. In this way, her idea almost seems to be saying that the life is there but not like it used to be. This talk almost sounds like evolutionary in nature. Perhaps authors are claiming that instead of becoming artificial, the artificial will help shape what we become in terms of our evolution? This is an intriguing idea that I will probably look at further for the last paper.
While I personally lean to the belief that AI will become advanced enough to comprehend all of our complex emotions and nuances, one of my experts seems to feel that while AI will become more technologically advanced, it will never be able to replace human interactions. My other experts feel that we as people are becoming more cybernetic and that this infusion with the machine is a difficult idea to define. While some seem to feel that we are losing our humanity, Shin makes it sound like that as long as we have our souls we will always remain human no matter what container we placed in.
Blade Runner 2049. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Ana De Armas, and Harrison Ford. Alcon Entertainment, 2017
Ghost in the Shell. Dir. Mamoru Oshii. Perf. Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka, and Iemasa Kayumi. Bandai Visual, 1995.
Greiner, Stefan. "Cyborg Bodies—Self-Reflections on Sensory Augmentations." Nanoethics, vol. 8, no. 3, 2014, pp. 299-302.
Huang, Ming-Hui, and Roland T. Rust. "Artificial Intelligence in Service." Journal of Service Research, vol. 21, no. 2, 2018, pp. 155-172.
Lombreglia, Ralph. “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Virtually Now, edited by Jeanne Schinto, Persea Books, 1996, pp. 208-237.
Shin, Hyewon. "Voice and Vision in Oshii Mamoru's Ghost in the Shell: Beyond Cartesian Optics." Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. VI, no. 1, 2011, pp. 7-23.
Sipper, Moshe, and Jason H. Moore. "Artificial Intelligence: More Human with Human."BioData Mining, vol. 10, no. 1, 2017, pp. 34-2.