Losing your Humanity…

This week we have had some philosophical discussions about the new intelligent beings among us. Yes, they have arrived, and they have been quietly making their mark on people in cities across the globe. Some have quietly taken up jobs in hotels, some have been seen on tv, seminars and conferences. Others have begun making their mark in brothels and even online as sordid temptresses while a few are just as happy to be mail-order brides, literally.

As if we do not have enough problems trying to feed, clothe, employ and manage the 7-odd billion people on the planet, we now have Humanoids to contend with. Jobs are already scarce and robots already seem like a great alternative to those at the top who still manage to squeeze the last drops of blood from their barely-legal slaves. Companies in Japan have employed humanoid robots in hotels and restaurants and it wont be long before others follow suit.

The Big Fear

The big fear is not even about job security. The real concern is how we interact with these objects. Some may pose the question, “Are they objects or are they beings?” Look, I know you can ‘grow up to be anything you want to be’ these days, and there are probably some crazy people trying to grow up to become humanoid bots, but let’s just be real here for a moment, whether they are beings or objects is not the point of the discussion so let’s leave it at that.

Meet Sophia, a Humanoid robot

The point of the discussion is that we are human beings, not bots. We have control of our actions, intentions and have to deal with the repercussions of our behaviours. Humanoid robots are built to look, act, think and one day feel like human beings, but they are programmed to do certain things by someone else. Even if they are intelligent beings with the ability to learn, they were built for a certain purpose. What that purpose is, and how it affects us, we need to question.

Bots are meant to be tortured

I was mortified to read the article from the likes of David Vincent Kimel this morning, asserting on some level that “…humanoids should feel a sense of honour serving humans and allowing them to cathartically actualise their fantasies and nightmares in a controlled and safe environment”. There is this fantasy that the world is too prohibitive and some people are innately depraved so we should be able to shed our inhibitions and do whatever we feel. Westworld is a series that engages this premise and centres around an amusement park intended for rich vacationers, which is looked after by robotic “hosts” and allows its visitors to live out their fantasies through artificial consciousness.

A scene from Westworld

People want to be able to ‘live our their fantasies’ and since robots are not real people, it shouldn’t matter what we do to them. Some people are of the impression that these bot-beings are designed to be our modern day slaves and because we design and build them, we can create them to do anything we want, especially things we aren’t allowed to do with real human-beings. The assertion is that we can use them to allow ourselves to engage in any kind of behaviour without the consequences.

A question of Ethics

The thing is, is the behaviour reprehensible because of its effects on other people or its effects on us. If it is based on the former, then does it mean it is less reprehensible if there is no damage caused to the other person? If the latter, then, does it mean engaging in such acts, whether it is with a humanoid or a real human, it is still something that needs to be condemned because of how it makes us feel or act?

There is this whole argument about humanoids having simulated feelings and reactions that are not real so they should not be taken seriously or considered harmful to them. The point is that the perpetrator of the act is the one experiencing the real feelings. I agree with Kimel when he said, “Ultimately, concerns about playing with mechanical sex-dolls and life-size robotic action figures shouldn’t focus on the psychological harms suffered by the toys and their likelihood of starting to attack us.” The concern should focus on the psychological harms suffered by the person engaging in the behaviour, and their likelihood of attacking us.

How does allowing a pedophile or a serial killer (or other more twisted folk) indulge in their sociopathic behaviour add any value to their human experience? It only reinforces their drive and addiction to deviant behaviours. A person who pulls the heads off cats for fun in their spare time does not ‘get relief’ and then acts normal in society because we let him pull the heads off cats when nobody is looking. It only allows them to graduate to more sadistic forms of behaviour, with more sophisticated victims because the action of engaging in such a behaviour reinforced it.

Remember that poor sex robot, Samantha, that needed repairs after being repeatedly molested while on display at a recent tech fair? Nobody was concerned about Samantha, and even I am more concerned about what kind of people think it is ok to exhibit such lewd behaviour and get away with it. Sergi Santos, the doll’s developer iterated, “People can be bad. Because they did not understand the technology and did not have to pay for it, they treated the doll like barbarians.”

Sergi Santos and “Samantha.”

Would those people behave in such a lewd manner in any other circumstance? Did the availability of the technology and the visual appeal of the humanoid, coupled with the fact that this was actually a sexual object with no repercussions elicit such behaviour? Would they do it again? Would it change the way they see other women in public? Would they feel more confident about attacking a real woman in public like they did the doll? Would it give a molester enough practice to do it to a real person? Would it create more outlandish behaviour with a don’t care attitude? Does having this outlet affect how people behave in real life?

Lower your gaze?

I posed the question to my colleagues, “Does a Muslim man have to lower his gaze if he sees a female robot?” Depending on the sophistication of the humanoid robot, it is very hard to tell them apart from real humans at first glance. It makes the experience more real. It makes you think and feel as if you are doing something to a real person. That’s just the problem. We are reinforcing negative behaviours. We are allowing people to become more depraved and sadistic by making it ethical to be unethical.

ChihiraAico, a lifelike android robot built by electronics manufacturer Toshiba, is able to talk, sing, gesture and cry like a 32-year-old Japanese woman.

The Islamic perspective is simple. It’s not about whether it is a robot or a human. You, as a human being, are answerable for your behaviour and your own intentions. If you think that engaging in something will lead to fitna (strife, distress, temptation, affliction), stay away from it. So yes, the answer was, “…he should lower his gaze”. The wisdom behind it is that you are a spiritual being, and should rise above the base desires of the lower self. If you feel that looking at something or someone, whether it is real or perceived, human or humanoid, will cause you to behave in a way that is contrary to what your are striving for as a spiritual being, then avoid the temptation.

It is not liberating to become a savage, debased human being, with no sense of morality or character. It will not benefit you to engage in barbaric acts of debauchery, regardless of the nature of the victim, so do not be fooled into thinking that the lack of consciousness in the bot will cover up your lack of conscience in real life.

Is that what the creators of these humanoids want? A world filled with depraved humanoids who want to be human and humans who have lost their humanity and just become slaves to their addictions? You may or may not be legally answerable for defiling a robot in real life, but we are still answerable for our intentions and our characters.