I’ve started watching Black Mirror on Netflix. It’s pretty disturbing stuff. Technology gone wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. And it’s making me think about things I haven’t thought of in a long time.
Stepping back for a minute, here, you need to understand something about me. I’m the type of person who talks to my phone, and not in the “Hey Seri, call my brother” way. More like, “WTF, Seri, what do you mean you have to be connected to the internet?” or “Hey Seri, can you contact my mother in the afterlife?” and “Try again, Seri, that’s not the answer I’m looking for.”
I also talked to dogs as if they understand, oh and stuffed animals. The dogs at least respond.
So after watching an episode of Black Mirror where a synthetic human is imbued with the physical and mental characteristics of a dead person I started thinking about what makes something alive. Or sentient. What constitutes sentience? I haven’t pondered these questions for a really long time.
If being self-aware is the definition, then this silicone being from Black Mirror was sentient. But could it feel emotion? Attachment? Was it an it, or a he? Is it cruel to lock it in an attic because it’s not enough like your deceased loved one?
If a human thinks something is alive, or sentient (two separate issues, I know), does it make it so? Well obviously I can believe my stuffed minion is alive, but that won’t make it so. But what about an artificial intelligence? Can it develop sentience? If it’s sentient does that make it alive?
I mean, some part of me knows that just because I react to my phone as if it has intelligence, that doesn’t mean it actually has any. However, I do believe dogs are sentient. Actually, I think there is some scientific evidence behind that belief, so yay me. My Jack Russell cross is more intelligent than some people – and that’s actually a bad thing. Do you have any idea how hard it is to catch a dog that knows it doesn’t have to come and doesn’t feel the need to please you? Ugh.
I don’t have any answers, just a creepy feeling between my shoulder blades from watching too many episodes. Feeling eyes on my back that aren’t there. Unanswered questions about where humanity is headed are floating just out of range. I know they are percolating somewhere in my brain ready to jump out and catch me when I least suspect them. I’m really too old for this shit. By my age I should have all this stuff sorted.
Here – have a puppy. A sentient puppy.