Respect for the undead = respect for the living?

We’ve all seen it. The longer the zompocalypse goes on, humanity’s humanity withers away – no longer caring for the living, even though that is all they have left.

One part of my job at the uni entitles me to sit around and listen to students talk. In the philosophy capstone unit, a lot seemed beyond my current knowledge until they got to the application of theory in tutorials. Lots of talk of physical versus inner self, minimal or extended self, narrative self – all ideas which led to can robots experience? Does that make them living? Are we all just really robots? What got to me was the question ‘is it wrong to hit a robot?’

I was shocked to hear them justify how it would be okay. I was raised on speculative fiction, and in particular Star Trek: think about Data, Seven, The Doctor (although Seven was about remembering her humanness and being re-taught, her cyber implants and wide knowledge from the Borg kept her separate from the rest of the crew a lot). The Doctor was nothing but a hologram, why bother turning him off when leaving the sickbay, or why ask him if it’s convenient to turn him off when he has samples to run. Data was merely a robot – why should it bother us if he can vocalise a desire to not be torn apart by someone.

So this discussion disturbed me a fair bit. Robots can’t feel, and even if they can, it’s because they’ve been programmed to, where we have evolved to feel. What’s the difference?

One of my mates wrote a paper on this exploration of humanity (David-Jack Fletcher ‘Recalibrating the ‘Human’.) In it, he discusses the idea of what makes a human special, the ‘human essence’, and the perception of how post-humanism, including cyber-technologies, changes what it means to be human. I loved this (and I’m only slightly biased, because he’s awesome). Can’t we take control of our own evolution?

This is something I really want to investigate more – what separation is there? If all humans are animals, then why would zombies be bad? If animals are different to humans, then are animals and robots more alike? Where’s the line in all this? We consider ourselves the top of hierarchy, but what right does that give us to abuse robots?  And what happens when we can’t tell the difference?

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