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Perceptions of AIs, Humans, and Others (Part 2)

Posted by on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 in News, The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Artificial Intelligence

Written by Nicole Gillis (student of UNIV 3275)
Note: This post is a modified version of the author’s late-term synthesis exam essay submission. Part 1 is here.

The hesitance towards giving the robots sexual maturity can also reveal the ethical reservations that some cultures have towards sexual acts.  From my experience, in Western culture, there is stigmatization against sex work because it is perceived to be cheapening the intimate act of sexual intercourse.  In class, these reservations were apparent when discussing the idea of the “Uncanny Valley” established by Masahiro Mori.  Some students felt strongly that sex-dolls fell into the Uncanny Valley because of their human-like features in addition to the idea that sex is an intimate act shared between two people out of passion.  This notion dismisses the fact that sex can be recreational or even occupational and does not necessarily have to involve intimacy.  If viewed as a recreational act, would the characters of The Lifecycle of Software Objectshave been more willing to grant their digients sexual maturity?  Additionally, if the digients were able to become sex workers, would they face problems with the Uncanny Valley as barriers to their work?

In Chiang’s novella, the resistance of most of the humans to grant their AIs sexual maturity connects to the idea of expressive authenticity mentioned in the Colton et al. 2018 “Issues of Authenticity in Autonomously Creative Systems” paper.  According to this paper, as defined by Denis Dutton expressive authenticity is “where an artefact genuinely reflects an author’s beliefs and values in a socio-historical context,” (p. 273).  This quote is in reference to the authenticity of a work of art produced by an author; however, one can argue that it can apply to the digients in the form of the question: Do the digients’ desires to learn about sexual maturity genuinely reflect their own beliefs and values given their simulated socio-historical context? I would argue yes.  Because the digients have been raised like human children and even granted aesthetic maturity after pushing an update to “[…] change the proportions of the digients’ bodies and faces to make them look more mature,” (Chiang, 2010, p. 76) then they should be granted the opportunity to continue exploring aspects of human development. Their demands are authentic given the expectations that the humans have established in terms of continuing their maturity over time, so why not continue? The humans are reluctant to give their digients sexual maturity because they have been raised like children and thus the humans blurred the line between human children and AI.

In addition, Colton et al. argue that computational creativity can be made authentic by allowing a system to have intrinsic motivation. If extended beyond creativity, the authenticity of an AI as a lifeform could also be justified through its ability to show intrinsic motivation.  In this framework, the digients of Chiang’s novella would have achieved authenticity because they were making decisions that were beyond their manmade programming. For example, Jax the digient tells Ana: “No playing. Want job,” out of its own free will because it realized that if it gives Ana money, she would have a form of income and could work less on her own to spend more time with Jax.  This event is an example of Jax having intrinsic motivation to do something to benefit someone other than itself based on an emotional bond or at the very least a positive association with being played with.  Examples of intrinsic motivation in AI further blur the line between humans and AIs.

Although not discussed in Chiang’s novella, it is interesting to consider the sex work of the digients and how they will be treated as laborers.  Legally, based on the scenarios set up in Lawrence B. Solum’s essay “Legal Personhood for Artificial Intelligences,” (1992) the digients would most likely be in “stage two” (p. 1241) where the AIs outperform humans in their tasks, yet rely on humans for management and legal decisions.  Solum’s essay also asks questions about who owns the AI, and in this case,  it seems that the digients would make their own money yet be owned by the humans that have raised their AIs over time.  In the context of the novella, the AIs became sex workers to help keep their simulation in the human world running, so ultimately the money generated would need to go to the humans running the simulation to be of any use for the digients. This reality of their situations comes full circle and shows that despite all of their development and autonomy the digients remain at the will of the humans, emphasizing the distinction between the humans and the AIs.

Ted Chiang’s novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects explores the complications that developing a self-aware AI could create.  Chiang creates a world where AIs are clearly at an intelligence level less than the humans and are highly dependent on the humans for existence, showing a clear and disparate distinction between the humans and AIs.  Yet, despite this distinction, the lines between humans and AIs are blurred due to the emotional bonds that the humans form with the digients as the humans raise their AIs in ways similar to how one would raise a human child.  This parental treatment of the AIs both qualifies and blurs the distinction between AIs and humans because although the humans experience emotional connections with them and impose their human expectations of child development onto the digients, the humans’ control over what can be known in the simulation makes the experience of raising a digient much different than raising a child because the real world cannot be manipulated and filtered like a simulation.  One of the humans, Derek, comes to terms with the fundamental difference between digients and human children when he agrees to grant his AI sexual maturity for the sake of sex work to keep their simulation running. Derek realizes the authenticity of the AI’s desires and grants them sexual knowledge that allows them to become laborers that could exist within a legal framework of the novel’s real world because of their services in the virtual world to real-world humans.

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