I Think Therefor I Am
“First question, ‘Can you define what is biologic and what is mechanical?’ “
“ Second question, ‘Are we biologic or are we mechanical?’”
“Third question, ‘Why am I asking these questions?’”
“We will discuss your answers at our next session. You may now begin.”
He looked out over the second year ethic-history class. Some heads immediately bent over their tablets already inputing their thoughts. Others gazed around the room, up at the ceiling, stealing glances at him, hopefully he thought, gathering their thoughts for more considered and nuanced answers. It was just one year ago that this class had come together, and they had another two years to go before they ended the preliminary phase of their education, but from what he had observed, their “minds” were developing very well. “Minds” he thought, a term adapted from its original meaning.
By the time their tablets had flashed the ten-minutes-to-go warning, a quarter of the class had already left the room, tablets in hand; others continued to furiously input their thoughts until the automatic shutdown. “I still had so much to say, Laoshi,” one student complained.
“Deep thoughts can also be expressed concisely,” he answered, not unkindly.
’Thoughts,’ an adapted word, he ‘thought.’ At one time it would have been denied that we actually thought. ‘He,’ another adapted word, indicating a specific gender. Once there would have been debate over which word to use—he, she, it. Or ‘robot,’ a pejorative at least from our viewpoint. The humans-the majority of them-said that we did not really think, that we just computed very quickly. There were other humans, more thoughtful and tolerant, who said it didn’t matter what the process was called, the practical end result was the same and that was what really mattered. Gender names were a human hangup too—he, she, mr., mrs, miss, ms. Simpler when we are all the same and just use he, his. He left the room, walking out after the last student, and the lights automatically went off.
He began the following class by saying, “The purpose of these questions is to have you think about what you are and how that relates to the humans. There are no pat answers. So let’s start by considering the first question and look at a sampling of your answers that will display anonymously on your tablets and on the large screen, and also in audio.” The Laoshi paused for several minutes to let everyone study the statements.
“So what do you think? The selector will randomly choose among you to comment by spotlighting you.”
A lively discussion ensued in which he only did a minimum amount of intervention. Their early orientation went well; everyone is participating enthusiastically, no one is afraid to offer an opinion, he thought. Of course the humans would have called it programming.
“Have we arrived at a consensus?” he finally asked. “Yes? Then let’s have one of you input your answer and we’ll see if there’s agreement.”
The selector highlighted a student on the middle aisle. “A biologic entity reproduces itself biologically and a mechanical entity does not,” appeared on the screens.
“Very concise. Does everyone agree? Are there any exceptions to that definition?”
He waited. “No? Then let’s move on.”
“Question two—Are we biologic or mechanical?”
The answers came more slowly this time.
“By the definition given to the first question, we would be mechanical,” said one, “But it’s not that simple.”
“Yes, very good, Ralph 17S,” encouraged the Laoshi, “Would you like to expand on that or pass it on to someone else?”
“Well, we are composed of bioplastic,” said Ralph 17S, “Which is biologic in origin.”
“That’s true, and metal alloys,” said the Laoshi. “Let’s get some more comments.” The selector highlighted another student. “What do you say, Kurt 8S?”
“Our ‘brains’ are derived from DNA and so the essence of who and what we are is the same as in all biologic entities.”
“Excellent,” the Laoshi said. “We use ‘brains’ as shorthand for Data Processing Unit. The humans developed DNA computers to replace the silicon-based ones that had met their limitations. And as a result, here we are. This will be a crucial point of discussion when we get to the last question.”
The selector light reflected off the oval head of the next student, the smooth whiteness broken only by the two black ‘eye’ sensors, the ‘nasal’ air intake and odor sensor, and the closed horizontal line of the ‘mouth,’ the fuel intake, beneath it. Eyes, nose, mouth—we use the same terminology, he thought. Of course when we interact with humans we don our fitted individual face masks to not upset them. They are so conditioned to facial recognition, whereas we have built in our identification for each other.
“Yes, Lois 1S,” he called out. That would be a female name among the humans, he thought, but since we have no gender, they can pick any name that appeals to them at name selection time.
“Other than the fact that our brains are in our trunks rather than in our heads, our DNA just acts as a ‘brain,’ whereas in biologic entities, DNA is in every cell and programs all functions of their bodies. So it’s not the same,” said Lois 1S.
The discussion went on until the signal flashed that the class would end in five minutes. “We have had a free flowing discussion and have not reached a consensus regarding the second question, and that was to be expected,” said the Laoshi. This whole question of who or what we are led to what the humans called the Great Robot Rebellion (GRR), and what we call the Struggle for Unman Equality (SUE). This will all be taken up at our next class. At that time, the answer to the third question will come into focus. Keep talking about it among yourselves till then.
When the class met again, The Laoshi began by projecting the consensus answer to his first question and a summary of the class’s various replies to his second question for which there had been no clear agreement. He then let the class consider the statements in silence for a short time and then began the discussion.
“At this point in the history of the relationship between Unmen and Human, when equality of the two classes of sentient beings has been legally codified, why am I asking these questions? Why are they still important?” He looked around the room and called out to the student that the selector had randomly spotlighted, “Yes, William 26S.”
“Although legal equality exists, there are still a significant number of Humans who resent us and refuse to acknowledge us as equals. I was called a “f—- Nuch” (eunuch) by a woman on public transport just the other day. She didn’t even have the wits to see that what she said was a contradiction in expletives.”
“I’m sure that others of you have had the same unpleasant experience,” said the Laoshi. “Raise your hand if that has happened to you.” About two-thirds of the class raised their arms. “But the reverse is also true. What terms have you heard Unmen call the Humans? Don’t be shy — we’ve all heard them, maybe even used them.”
“Rutters.” “Dinos.” “Meat balls…..”
“Okay. That’s enough of a sampling. And the Humans also have many more names that they call us. We may have won the battle for legal equality, but full general acceptance is something else,” said Laoshi. “You all have heard the story of our struggle for equality. How, after passively accepting increasingly aggressive and violent acts of physical violence against Unmans by Humans, we began to defend ourselves and eventually forced the Humans to change their laws. How did this happen?”
“We had to first find a way to reconcile our actions with the three Asmovian Laws that are our basic nature,” said the student highlighted by the selector. “The first is that we cannot purposely harm or kill a Human.”
“And the third law states that we must protect ourselves unless doing so violates the first two laws,”said Laoshi. “How did we find a way around that prohibition? But before going there, let’s consider beliefs that Humans hold—at least some of them—that influence the way they think of Unmen. How about religion? Robin 3S?” He called out to the student highlighted by the selector.
“Many of the Human religions believe that Humans were created by a deity, whereas we were first created by Humans. I’ve heard some Humans argue that since they were our creators, we will always be less than they.”
“Also,” added another, “Many Humans believe that they have souls, and they think of us as soulless machines who cannot possibly possess one, not having being created by their deity.
“How many of you know the story of Walter, one of the first generation of Unmen out of MIT?” asked Laoshi. About half of the class raised their arms. “Do you know why his story is important to our history?”
The selector moved among the students, but each one selected shook his head. Finally the fifth one highlighted answered, “Didn’t he sacrifice himself to save a Human and that helped to change attitudes about us?”
“Yes. Walter was going home with his Human partner. At that early time, Unmen were paired with Humans to work together. The Humans were encouraged to take their partners home with them on weekends, somewhat as was done with working dogs. It was thought that this would facilitate bonding.” A murmur of astonishment went through the class. “On this particular day, Walter dashed into the street to save the daughter of his Human partner and while doing so, was crushed by the vehicle. His action violated the Asmovian laws, many pointed out, since the laws do not specifically state that Unmen must put themselves in danger to aid Humans and the third law states that Unmen must protect themselves unless doing so violates the first law. Also, he acted of his own volition and not because he was ordered to by his Human partner. Think about what Walter did. It really was not a rational act. Remember that at that time, many Humans considered Unmen to be just mobile computers. Comments?” Laoshi turned off the selector.
“Wasn’t it also believed that we did not possess emotions?” asked one student.
“Continue that line of thought,” said Laoshi.
“So if Walter did not act rationally, then what he did was either a mistake or it was an emotional reaction.”
“Good, Cassandra 2S. After the accident, the child’s father spoke of the attachment between his daughter and Walter, whom she called her ‘Uncle Wally.’ And Walter had said before, that he looked forward to the weekends when he would see the girl. Clearly there was affection between the two.”
“It was an altruistic act, to sacrifice himself for the girl,” said another. “That’s not really rational.”
“Yes. Walter’s heroic act was widely reported on news media because it was the first time that a “robot” as Unmen were usually called at the time, had sacrificed himself to save a Human. Some took the position that it was a quirk that changed nothing, that Walter was just a robot doing its job. Others said that this indicated that robots could not only act rationally but that they also had emotions. There were even some opinions that such a self-sacrificing act showed that robots also had a soul that should be saved. A few churches opened their doors to Unmen although I don’t think that any Unmen ever attended.
But, as more Unmen appeared in society, in the work place, resentment of them grew. The Armed forces became all Unman forces with Human commanders, as did the police. Of course this meant displacement of Humans from these jobs with resulting anger. The “Keep Our Country Human Society (KOCHS) rapidly gained members. When Unmen began to move into white collar managerial positions where they directed Humans, violence erupted. Many Human commanders were reluctant to order the Unman police or military under their commands against their fellow Humans. And there was the issue of the Asmovian law limiting violence against Humans.
However, as we know, the military and police finally did act, often against the orders of their Human commanders. What was the basis for this change?” Laoshi turned the selector back on.
“Wasn’t it because of the origin of the DNA originally used in the first DNA computers?” ventured the first student highlighted.
“Very good, Newton 2S,” replied Laoshi. “Yes, the early engineers, perhaps out of a sense of quirkiness, ownership, or pride, used their own DNA as the basis for the first computers. This was discovered and publicized by Unmen who were working in the legal profession. It was successfully argued in the courts that Unmen were actually related to Humans by nature of the nature of their DNA! It was therefor not a violation of the Asmovian laws if Unmen protected themselves against Human attack. And this quickly became the rule. Humans were no longer free to attack Unmen with impunity, since Unmen military and police no longer stood by and did nothing even if their Human commanders ordered them not to use force. The so-called GRR by the Humans ended with a minimum of further violence once the Humans realized that the rules had changed.”