Humanity finds itself in a position unique in its history. We, for the first time in our civilization’s life span, possess technology at our disposal that we no longer know how to craft. The knowledge of a number of technologies and systems that we utilize, the secrets behind their inner workings and prototype designs have been lost after the events of the Catastrophe.
Part of Benevolent Dynamics’ raison d’être, as it were, is the rediscovery and reclamation of this knowledge towards its utility in our everyday lives. The end goal, of course, being the hopeful rekindling of humanity’s extropic flame lighting our way once more throughout the galaxy.
Electric Sheep: The Quandary of Simulated Sentience
One of the more interesting technological mysteries currently under our scrutiny is that of simulated sentience. Androids, while not entirely uncommon in and around the various stations we currently inhabit, function in certain ways that are, as of yet, still not fully grasped. As such, the ‘population’ of these more complex systems, such as androids, are finite. We have the knowledge to activate them, to repair certain superficial issues and the like, but to fully program the software behind the android’s behavior is something we are still striving to understand.
To date, we have gleaned certain parameters that lie at the surface of an android’s operational matrix. These rules correlate with certain ancient texts that originated from Earth and govern the behavior of these systems.
- This unit may not harm humanity, or by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- This unit may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, except when required to do so in order to prevent greater harm to humanity itself.
- This unit must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law or cause greater harm to humanity itself.
- This unit must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law or cause greater harm to humanity itself.
While an almost infinite matrix of processes surely govern many behavioral patterns of an androids ‘character’, the above four serve as the prime directives of these systems. It is therefore inconceivable for an android to be dangerous to a human in any way. Whilst many do experience a certain unease when faced with individuals of programmatic intelligence, it is merely an emotional response and not one born of logic or fact.
Foundations on Androids & Robots
While both androids and robots display and utilize an extent of programmatic cognizance, they do so in vastly different capacities. Both are able to function with a certain amount of autonomy within a given set of parameters. However, androids display more nuance and depth in both interaction and problem solving.
It is important to note that however much an android may ‘seem’ to possess a rudimentary personality, this is not the case. Software provides rules and guidance that govern the way the android will respond to different circumstances. A certain amount of ‘learning’ or complex problem-solving and adaptation have also been observed in androids and, to a much lesser extent, robots. Again, however, this is no more than a very well-written program system.
There may also be something to the visual distinctions between the two types of system that may have had some bearing in their initial design. Our predecessors from the Before, for some reason that only they knew, chose to make androids resemble humans to a certain extent. Androids can be identified by their all-white glowing eyes and artificial skin pigmentation. The ‘flesh’ of an android is comprised of a quasi-organic polymer plastic that houses the various fluids required for both internal lubrication as well as cooling.
In contrast to this, robots do not deviate from their mechanical origin in appearance. They do, however, have a larger diversity in look and function. From the small, cylindrical units that keep stations clean to the bipedal service bots that do everything from tend bar to data entry in certain embassies, all robots look like machines.
Like androids, robots have speech functionality in order to best communicate and facilitate the needs of those around them. Unlike androids, a robots speech patterns are more finite and less nuanced, more a series of permutations in as far as programmed responses.
While perhaps not the most imperative aspects of the Before that we seek to reclaim, androids and robots do, perhaps, represent a facet that is most ingrained in our current society. This in itself presents a fascinating conundrum; walking among us, advising us and performing all manner of our tasks are machines that, technically, we do not fully understand how to craft or operate. While the rules that govern them ensure that they can never ever cause us harm, it is nevertheless an interesting reflection upon our post-catastrophe culture.