Oct 4, 2013

Out of the Weeping Sky

Shaped like a giant’s teardrop, the Cygnus cast her shadow over the pink waters of the world and pretended to sigh. She allowed herself a jolt of grade-2 endorphins. The constituents slept in Cygnus’s hold. She’d broken the terms of her mandate, veered off-course. Would they demand a new election?

Painting by Justin Maller

The sentient ship: If humanity survives long enough, we’ll certainly build one.

What would happen if a living ship were granted personhood? Persona (Latin) and prosopon (Greek) referred to the masks worn by actors on stage – now, among other things, a persona is a customization pack for your Internet browser. As a concept, person has become the opposite of persona. The latter is mask, surface, concealment. Person on the other hand is all about essence. But, because “essence” is hard to pin down, let’s talk about autonomy for a little while.

Your autonomy in the world expresses your personhood -- the way you think, talk and act, your decision-making capabilities, and so on -- so, for instance, a mannequin looks like a person, but it does not possess autonomy. Nor does any sane human being place the same expectations on a shop window dummy as they do on another human being.

But we like to humanize objects and living creatures, i.e., to look for, and ascribe human traits to the world around us. From that to according personhood to an AI created in our image doesn't look like a huge leap to me. A techno-cognitive revolution is around the corner.

Now picture us well past the point of having accepted non-human beings as persons. Now come new challenges and troubling questions. We live in a future where spaceships would like to form, or join political parties. They want salaries. Savings accounts. Retirement funds. What kind of friction does that cause? What if spaceships and humans considered themselves the same species?

This prompt was partly inspired by We Who Fell in Love with the Sea, by Rome.

No comments:

Post a Comment