Jul 062015

An old, old philosophical puzzler: at what point does damaging your *machine* become abuse?

Elvis apparently shot his TV at least once. Demolition derbies and action movies and 1980’s cop shows beat the hell out of cars for our amusement. Mythbusters dropped “Buster” the crash test dummy from cranes, set it on fire, blew it up. People put their smart phones in blenders just to see what’ll happen. And there are no perceived ethical problems with any of this.

But imagine a fully sentient humanoid android, capable of opinions and wants and dreams and feelings and such… C3-PO at the very least, or Data. Is it ok to abuse a mechanism like that just for giggles? Most, I trust, would think not. So at what point does “ok” become” dude, stop?”

It’s not, as I said, a new question. Mary Shelley raised the idea 200 years ago with “Frankenstein.” Frankensteins creature was not, as is generally portrayed, created by stitching together bits of corpses. He was, in fact, manufactured from the ground up. He was a truly artificial being. And the question was posed, what is the creators responsibilities to the creation? The question has been raised recently in movies like “Chappie” and (oddly) “Ted 2” and TV shows like “Humans” and “Almost Human.” But it was also – probably unintentionally – raised 31 years ago in the rather awful sci-fi “comedy” Ice Pirates. A bunch of robots are sent into combat and are all chewed up; but that’s not the scene in question. No, there’s a car chase on a city street. Three robots – rather typical early 80’s robots, barely mobile with little actual functionality – are crossing the street when a car comes along and plows into and destroys two of them. The third remaining robot starts spinning in a circle yelling “Mommy! Baby! Mommy! Baby!” We are left to assume that this was a family of robots, presumably a “husband,” “wife” and “child,” and the wife and child just got greased, leaving the husband in mourning. Ha! Ha! Boy, was that funny for 14 year old me, watching it on HBO. But within a few years, what was funny became instead really rather sad. Sure, they were just crappy props, but by imbuing them with the ability to mourn, even just in pretend, they became things is was *not* cool to just mash for chuckles.

And so, then there’s this:

Mr. Know-It-All: Is It OK to Kick a Robot?

Where we here about an experiment conducted a few years ago. A few groups of people were each given a “Pleo,” a toy robot dinosaur. They were also given craft supplies and told to dress up the robodino, and they held a “fashion show” for them. And then the people were told to “correct” the robodinos with corporal punishment, and people started to balk. And then the guy came out with the hatchet…

Here’s the thing: Pleos almost certainly had much less intelligence than a modern smart phone. The robodinos could dance around and put on a show of looking happy or sad, but there was no actual feeling there, just a few lines of code. You couldn’t have a conversation of even the lowest order with a Pleo. But with a smart phone, you *can* have a conversation of sorts with Siri. But if you decided to hammer your phone into tiny bits of metal, glass and plastic…. shrug.

At some point this question is going to be rather more than just purely academic. A basic rule of thumb I’d suggest is that a robot or computer is deserving of human rights when it, without being programmed or told to, asks for those rights for itself. But something doesn’t need to be legally human-equivalent to be deserving of protection from abuse. If I see you abusing a dog or a cat, chances are you might wind up with my boot up your ass, and dogs and cats don’t come anywhere near having human rights. So at what point will slamming your laptop bring the animal welfare officers to your door to lay a legal beatdown on you?

 Posted by at 3:24 pm
May 162015

No, supercars haven’t suddenly become ridiculously cheap. Lab-grown meat has, however. A year and a half ago, the first quarter-pounder was made from “test tube meat,” costing well over a quarter million bucks; the same patty would today cost $11. That’s still pretty pricey by burger standards… but imagine $11 burgers on, say, the Moon or Mars. Or endangered-critter-burgers, without endangering the critters. Or the heads of animal rights activist vegans popping when presented with this option, instead of existing upon grass and weeds and whatnot.

Lab grown meat thirty thousand times cheaper than 18 months ago

Ah, science. Sure, *other* forms of thought promise meat from, say, small carbohydrate wafers, but man do they get snippy when you want to actually test the claim. But science? Pfff. Couple “science” with “profit motive,” and before you know it you’re getting honest-to-Tesla meat being spat out by a machine you keep in your kitchen next to the Bassomatic ’76.

 Posted by at 8:16 pm
Mar 132015

For some reason, my neighbor dumped a couple truckloads of onions in his field for his sheep critter to nom upon. I first noticed this one day a week or two back when, going into my garage, I was hit with the overwhelming smell of onions. As my garage is not normally the sort of place that encompasses a great many culinary smells, my first thought was “oh, no, what horrible chemical disaster has occurred to my home and/or car that has resulted in the co-incidental odor?” And then the garage door opened and, behold, a field of onions.

And for those interested… living for a decade next to a field full of sheep, an overwhelming scent of onions is *far* from the worst stank to come from that direction.


 Posted by at 1:06 pm