Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Windup Girl

I recently read a science fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi titled The Windup Girl.

It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it, if you haven't read it already. What I want to talk about today, though, is one particular character in the book.

This character is a "windup girl", non-human but deeply human-like. Well, she's almost human emotionally, but physically, her mannerisms are somewhat jerky (hence the derogatory term "windup"). She's described as a highly advanced biological organism, but the jerkiness of her motion reminded me very much of a highly advanced robot (or an android, I guess, since an android is always in human form).

As I read this book, I thought about what artificial intelligence will be like in fifty years, or a hundred. Research in this area seems to be accelerating, as well as research in robotics. How long will it be before an android can pass--in most situations--as a human being?

I'm going to say fifty years. I could say thirty years, though, and be almost as confident.

Here's the question, though. Forgot about industrial applications, or androids as caregivers for the elderly, or using them as instructors at the local community college.

Instead, let's talk about relationships. Let's talk about having a relationship with an android.

There would be two ways to do this in the future. One, you could select a highly-customized model that was tailored to your interests. For instance, if you loved a particular sport, this model could have a high interest for that sport, as well as a knowledge of the history of that sport.

The second way would be to just meet these androids in the normal process of day-to-day life. They might be working at your company, or maybe a waitress (or waiter) at your local restaurant.

I know. There are a shitload of logical complications here. Ignore all of them. Just focus on the relationship aspect.

How many people would be willing to have a relationship with an android that was 95% "human"? An android that was capable of having physical relations? How many people would prefer this to having a relationship with another human being?

If the difference between android and human is minor--very minor--how much does it matter? How much does it matter that the android isn't actually human, as long as they can pass--mostly--for human? How many people would be willing to raise a child (adopted, obviously) with an android? An android that was infinitely warm, loving and patient, with the most highly advanced childcare and development module that technology can offer?

Look at it from another angle. If, someday, an android created something, would you be willing to consume it? Would you read an android-written book, or look at android art in a museum? Would you allow yourself to be moved in a human way by art that was created by a non-human? What matters more--the creator, or the response?

If an android made us happy, would that be okay?

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