Nihilism of Ourselves and Others around Us

flixRecently I caught a couple of flicks that made me think back to a Lawrence Lessig seminarI took at Stanford Law, called “Ideas v Matter“, where we bounced off ideas on how to go about regulating the advances of technology that as early as 10 years ago were already having a significant impact in our lives. That’s more or less what this post is about: rather than opine on matter of black-letter law, I’m just putting forth a few thoughts and questions out there for others to cogitate upon and, ideally share with yours truly.

The first is “Trascendence“, wherein Johnny Depp’s character of Dr. Will Caster uploads his consciousness to a network computer and begins to work the unbelievable through nanotechnology but, as happens in real life (such as with stem-cell research), finds that extremist groups will stymie or attack his endeavours. That’s still in theatres in some places, so I won’t delve into it at length so as to not be a spoiler, but it seems that the reflection to be had towards the end is just how precious free-will and self-determination might be for us as a species over ostensible benefits spawned off of technology.

The second is “her“, and since that’s from last year and already available in home video, as well as for streaming, I’ll drill down on it. Essentially the flick is about a sad-ass divorcé who works as a copyrighter at a sort of Hallmark company that takes care of other people’s sentimental correspondence. One day he gets this operating system that’s actually artificial intelligence, and personalizes the options for it to have a female voice (Scarlett Johanson’s; not a bad choice!), which picks the name Samantha for itself (or “herself”?). So then the OS evolves, since it has the ability to, and so does the interaction between them, until it develops into a relationship. Very weird, even sad and creepy.

Anyhow, as the story unfolds, it presents a number of instances that merit thought and discussion, other than how very not improbable it would be for things to get to that point judging by how involved people are with their gadgets these days. Phubbing is a social issue already, and you need only stroll through a lounge, in an airport or elsewhere, to see heaps of people bowing to the little idols of glass and plastic in their hands.

Some of the issues I wanted to highlight in this entry are the following:

  • Infidelity and/or Adultery. Short messages,e-mail and social networks have presented vexing scenarios for couples, whether married or not; messages exchanged through those platforms have been resorted to in order to prove cheating and adultery in and outside of the courthouses. Would it “count” as infidelity for one or both of the individuals involved in a relationship to develop a bond of sorts with an operating system that they can be in touch with anywhere, any time, unbeknownst to their significant other? Would that constitute adultery for a married couple? Would it constitute infidelity if the operating system, which would have the ability to interact with more than one person or another operating system at the same time became involved in a relationship with another human being or operating system?
  • Surrogacy. There’s this scene where Joaquin Phoenix and Samantha engage in what would seem like phone sex by today’s standards; but in an attempt for their relationship to be more physical or concrete, Samantha enrolls a girl to serve as an interface of sorts for them to engage in intercourse. Surrogacy in human reproduction has posed a significant amount of social, ethical and legal issues, down to motherhood itself. So, if a there were people who lent themselves to perform such roles, would they be dubbed as or considered to be a prostitute?
  • Commitment and/or Marriage. Nowadays the laws that govern the institution of marriage are being rewritten in ways that wouldn’t have been imaginable a decade ago, and that a lot of people do not agree with. With the utmost respect to all couples and activists who have striven for such legal developments, in a scenario as portrayed by the film, could things get to the point where people would push to have the ability to marry their operating systems? I reckon that the prenup would have to be drafted in source code as well as in human-readable code, perhaps the ceremony might be performed by a programmer, but how would such a relationship serve the purposes of a marriage?

In sum, how would society and the law, as an essentially social construct, go about handling these issues in such situations, should they ever arise if (and when) artificial intelligence reached a point where we could interact with technology in such ways and to such extent?

Bits and bytes of food for thought.

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