I base today’s blog on a 2013 post with a look at the world from the perspective of The Lightstream Chronicles, which takes place in the year 2159. To me, this is a very plausible future. — ESD
There was a time when crimes were simpler. Humans committed crimes against other humans — not so simple anymore. In that world, you have the old-fashioned mano a mano, but you also have human against synthetic, and synthetic against the human. There are creative variations as well.
It was bound to happen. No sooner than the first lifelike robots became commercially available in the late 2020’s, there were issues of ethics and misuse. Though scientists and ethicists discussed the topic in the early part of the 21st century, the problems escalated faster than the robotics industry had conceived possible.
According to the 2007 Roboethics Roadmap,
“…problems inherent in the possible emergence of human function in the robot: like consciousness, free will, self-consciousness, sense of dignity, emotions, and so on. Consequently, this is why we have not examined problems — debated in literature — like the need not to consider robot as our slaves, or the need to guarantee them the same respect, rights and dignity we owe to human workers.”1
In the 21st century many of the concerns within the scientific community centered around what we as humans might do to infringe upon the “rights” of the robot. Back in 2007, it occurred to researchers that the discussion of roboethics needed to include more fundamental questions regarding the ethics of the robots’ designers, manufacturers and users. However, once in the role of the creator-god, they did not foresee how “unprepared” for that responsibility we were as a society, and how quickly humans would pervert the robot for formerly “unethical” uses, including but not limited to their modification for crime and perversion.
Nevertheless, more than 100 years later, when synthetic human production is at the highest levels in history, the questions of ethics in both humans and their creations remain a significant point of controversy. As the 2007 Roboethics Roadmap concluded, “It is absolutely clear that without a deep rooting of Roboethics in society, the premises for the implementation of an artificial ethics in the robots’ control systems will be missing.”
After these initial introductions of humanoid robots, now seen as almost comically primitive, the technology, and in turn the reasoning, emotions, personality and realism became progressively more sophisticated. Likewise, their implementations became progressively more like the society that manufactured them. They became images of their creators both benevolent and malevolent.
A series of laws were enacted to prevent the use of humanoid robots for criminal intent, yet at the same time, military interests were fully pursuing dispassionate automated humanoid robots with the express purpose of extermination. It was truly a time of paradoxical technologies. To further complicate the issue were ongoing debates on the nature of what was considered “criminal”. Could a robot become a criminal without human intervention? Is something criminal if it is consensual?
These issues ultimately evolved into complex social, economic, political, and legal entanglement that included heavy government regulation and oversight where such was achievable. As this complexity and infrastructure grew to accommodate the continually expanding technology, the greatest promise and challenges came almost 100 years after those first humanoid robots. With the advent of virtual human brains now being grown in labs, the readily identifiable differences between synthetic humans and real human gradually began to disappear. The similarities were so shocking and so undetectable that new legislation was enacted to restrict the use of virtual humans, and classification system was established to ensure visible distinctions for the vast variety of social synthetics.
The concerns of the very first Roboethics Roadmap are confirmed even 150 years into the future. Synthetics are still abused and used to perpetrate crimes. Their virtual humanness only adds an element of complexity, reality, and in some cases, horror to the creativity of how they are used.