Covidian Phiilosophy Hour: Are Friend’s Electric?

Apologies in advance to Gary Numan but some discussions need a bit of wiseass-ery now and again. This discussion may be only adjacent to, or never touching, very real discussions people are having about at what point robots/androids/AI are granted human rights, or are deemed wothy of… etc. Yes, those are very real discussions being had in the science world as we push technology into closer, more accurate representations of real people. What constitutes human? And at what point have we made the transition to gods, and found ourselves able to create such? These discussions have gone well beyond science fiction, i.e. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, and have entered the realm of legislators. In the meantime, with all this additional discussion of the Metaverse, what rights are granted our avatars, or our representations of ourselves and not separate entities from ourselves?

Metaverse experts reveal if you can murder in VR – and whether you can be punished.

My own bias is evident in the phrasing of that last question. An avatar is a visual representation of ourselves. It’s a moving photograph, so to speak, and not a separate, sentient, unique individual. Not that I’m saying a robot or an AI is sentient. I’m not actually sure about that. I am pretty certain though that there’s a difference between an AI and an avatar, unless that avatar is imbued with some degree of autonomy.

My guess is that committing an act of violence against an avatar in the Metaverse would have to be considered, legally speaking, an act of harassment, or in extreme cases where you’ve disabled the avatar altogether, property damage akin to a cyber-attack/crime. The Metaverse is a commercial venture so inhibiting one’s ability to navigate within the commercial venture would be like disabling someone’s computer… a hack… a virus… or such.

This of course only speaks to current technology. What happens if we create an AI whose function it is to navigate the Metaverse in place of us? An electronic entity separate from ourselves with decision making capabilities, and perhaps its own feelings, desires, etc.? That’s another question, isn’t it.

In the meantime we’re probably going to have to dial back the discussion to one of online bullying and harassment. The laws on that, where they exist at all, are still murky enough.

Consider this a placeholder then. There are no pat answers to this. The technology is moving ahead faster than we’ve had time to have any of these discussions to any meaningful result. What’s important is that the conversations are being had, and that they need to be extended. The way we live our lives is going to be changed to an unknown degree by emerging technology. It’s where the frontier is for the moment to feed a hungry, capitalist economy. That’s the problem inherent to capitalism itself. There always has to be a frontier for expansion and that frontier is currently very narrow and we’ve long since begun feeding on each other and that’s creating conflict. There has to be someplace to take it or the conflict will intensify.

This is a bigger discussion also and more than this forum, with my limited capacities, is suited for. Let’s just leave this here then and let it be noted that these conversations are being had.

And to be fair to Gary Numan, here’s his song about robot sex slaves.

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