Monday, March 26, 2007

Who We Pretend To Be

I will admit that I never bought into the idea of a robot becoming human, which was more than evident in my debate against any definition of humanity as it relates to the books we read in class. The main reason for this is that I refuse to believe that any human can build a system that features the complexities of the human brain, which I believe was created by a Being (God) with more power and knowledge than any of our scientists (how can man reproduce what he still does not fully understand?). Therefore, most of my disbelief has surrounded what I view has the implausibility of accomplishing such a complicated cyborg. How can a cyborg dream or imagine or even feel when it is merely a program that decides these emotions? Can a machine ever be programmed to think and create on its own without a programmer inserting these images and thoughts? I highly doubt it. So, while I believe that humans contain souls that could never be reproduced in mechanical form (and therefore would remove humanity from cyborgs), the main setback for me is that I doubt humans can play God and create a brain with the complexity of our own and, therefore, any central operating system would only be an imitation of daily habits, not an original, spontaneous set of choices and decisions (and not just random). Therefore, I found it intriguing what Marge Piercy had to say in an early dialogue from the chapter "Who Can We Tell The Dancer From The Dance?" (an interesting title)

This chapter finds Yod questioning whether he can be human is only pretending to be such (imitating human behaviors). He asks in a thought provoking statement: "Does it feel almost as if were human? Am I imitating behavior I can never match? . . . Am I pretending at something I will always fail?" (238) It is a question that has major implications to our course: can a robot be human when it only imitates and pretends to be something it is not (human)? Can behavior that seems human make the cyborg human when it is still a product of programming? This is the questions that would invoke the answer I mentioned previously, but Shira's response provoked my thought: "humans pretend at things all through childhood" (238) Now I realize that this statement was in the context of Yod's apprehensions of moving into a human society and home, and the next line concerns "playing house," but there is a deeper implication here that she may or may not have intended: humans pretend as well.

We all act a certain way that may seem just to follow the behaviors of society. We have routines and we pretend to be something different, since we were children and dressed to play different roles: doctor, fireman, police man, house wife. We all imitate humans in someway, so how does that make us different than the cyborg, if said cyborg could imitate human behavior?

But wait; this is not enough. Such an argument is only intriguing but would not change my mind for several important reasons. One of those reasons relates to intent and depth of thought. What does this mean? Well, a cyborg pretending to be human would be for the sake of imitating humanity. If imitation was a defining quality of humanity, then the pretending would be the human part of the cyborg, not the existence. For humans, pretending is mainly a tool to either obscure real desires or escape the current condition. The human thinks about imitating other humans and decides whether it wants to follow the crowd or be different. Humanity cannot be defined by behaviors and any effort a cyborg makes to imitate humans would only be superficial. A robot can act like the typical human, but not having the ability to chose to be different means there efforts can only be futile (I am having troubles describing my argument. If necessary, I can elaborate in class).

Another reason is that humanity cannot be defined by its tendency towards imitation. What a mundane and mechanical life does a man live if he bases his existence on the lives of others. There needs to be more meaning and depth to a man, a purpose, or he actually becomes more like a machine. In fact, I would argue that imitation is more of a mechanical feature that detracts from humanity. Without depth in thought, the ability to make right, and wrong decisions, even the free will to be different, we are merely machines (men have choices that robots don't; robots have to work within programmed parameters). Pretending and imitation seems more to define robots than humans, which means that humans act more robotic instead of robots acting more human. What Yod is doing only reinforces is programmed and limited (even inhuman) life.

Of course, the more obvious issue is the question of who is being imitated. The act of pretending does not define humanity. Therefore, robots cannot be human by pretending to be human. Consider this, who are humans imitating? There is no model to the habits we see in society. Such actions were learned by humans (learning and adapting, by the way, also separates humans from cyborgs, or at least, are things I doubt can actually be reproduced). Yod is talking about acting like humans (something else). Humans are humans. Simple as that.

Alright. So that was a long winded argument on a subject that was more derived from dialogue than actually a direct interpretation of the book. So, I guess this chapter never makes the statement that pretending is a part of humanity and, therefore, an argument for robots being human. In fact, most of this post was a rant that was provoked by the words in the book and may have nothing to do with the intention (sometimes I just see a word and it incites all of these other ideas that relates to that word). Hopefully I am not too far off the mark. Still, it seems pretty obvious that even the author doesn't consider him human. After all, Shira does not see him as a man when she lives with him (if anything, she sees him as better than most).

By the way, the idea of a robot being more gentle than most men in the story has more implications, especially since it reveals the flaws, and selfishness, of humans. Sadly, this is a characteristic of humanity, but that is another post . . . never mind.


Dani said...

Because it does not fit the label of human, it is disreguarded as alive? I mean the japanese are pretty damn close to create something functionaing, though not quite as close as being "Alive", more an imitation thing for now...I digress. But what if a machine became something else entirely? Maybe not human but it's person cannot be ignored. One could also argue that god indirectly made this other being because he made man and if god is omnipresent and all kowing, he, through man as a tool, created this new life form.

(For some reason I can't spell today >.< I'm spell-tarded)

Josh said...

This is arguable, but what I intended in this blog was to present the implausibility of man ever creating a program that includes the complexities of the human brain. I should restate my position: I don't mean to say that man can't create a cyborg with its own distinct features, and I would agree that God creates indirectly through man (since man never creates something from nothing and I believe everything is God's creation, thus man uses God's creation to create; also, I could say that God gave men the intelligence to create). Still, what I was arguing is that man will never be able to create something as complex as the brain because they don't understand the intricasies of thought and emotion, those details that, in my belief, only God understands. So, as I stated in class, I doubt that man can ever create the brain that makes us human and distinct (especially if one adds the concerns of the spiritual distinction of mind and brain). However, man might create a different entity that does not have the same complexities of humanity. Still, the point of my argument was to respond to the central question of the class--what makes us human and could a cyborg ever be considered one--and therefore was arguing my view regarding humanity. However, I never said that robots could not be considered alive; I was hoping to develop a distinction between life and being human. Animals are considered alive, and they don't have the same complexity of thought, and they are not human. This can apply to cyborgs as well.

You already know that my views stem from Christian beliefs, so whether you agree with me or not, this will always be a factor in my definition of humanity. In effect, I am trying to represent the voice of faith in a class that focuses on science. So, while the class might not share the same beliefs, it is important for me to provide the religious viewpoint so that the opposition can be heard. This class is based on scientific theories; I am trying to contribute spiritual beliefs as well. As a result, I can be a huge pain as I constantly maintain a belief that cyborgs cannot be human, but this class is about defining are own views on humanity. Mine involves faith and spirit.

Hopefully this answers yours, and others, concern regarding my position and helps you understand why I seem so stubborn.