May 27, 2019

Detroit: Become Human and the Future of Androids

I recently finished my first playthrough of Detroit: Becoming Human. Another writer recommended I check out the game when I told him the book I was working on had androids. However, the robots in my books are very different than the ones in Detroit. I really enjoyed the gameplay, and since David Cage created the game, the focus is on the ideas and story.

From the title alone, you get the notion of the central theme: at some point, androids are people too. I have thought a lot about this, but since I didn’t want to tackle such a huge philosophical question in my writing, I decided that the androids in the In the Lurch series would be strictly tools. Detroit, on the other hand, really makes players think.

In each sequence, you play as an android and are essentially forced to sympathize with this remarkably human-like machine. They have learned to feel emotions, to empathize, and to acutely fear death. They form bonds of friendship with humans and other androids, and can even have romantic feelings. These attributes, the game argues, make the robots human enough to be treated as people in society.

I could go on and on critiquing different aspects of this game, but I thought I’d focus on the “becoming human” part.

Androids are living beings

Before writing a single word in my robot series, I discussed the future of androids with my dad. He said he believes that with AI, robots would be indiscernible from living beings, and we would need to take care of them similar to how we would a pet or livestock He even quoted the Bible, saying that God wants us to take care of our animals and treat them with respect.
Proverbs 12:10
“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Considering society’s current stance on animal cruelty, I imagine most people would take the utmost care of their robot pets. I know vegans who won’t even eat items made with yeast, grouping the single-cell organisms in with animals. Surely an animated robot is more ‘living’ than that.

Of course, if we look at the biological definition of a living organism, androids would fail miserably. They don’t take in energy to grow and they can’t reproduce. On the other hand, if they’re so similar to life, shouldn’t we treat them the same?

Androids are Cognisant

One could argue a robot’s thoughts and feelings aren’t authentic and only resemble a human’s, but ultimately are only the execution or bits of code. On the other hand, isn’t the human mind just a mix of neurons firing electrical signals and chemical reaction? At what point will we say that a machine’s actions are authentic and not simply a ruse to appear lifelike? I personally don’t know, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Androids are Better than People

Back to the conversation with my dad: he believes that one day, androids may be so similar to people that they will have a role in society, including having a form of citizenship and representation in government. If they possess certain abilities that computers are better at performing than people, perhaps they’ll be more suited to some professions.

Naturally, that thought was what fueled the takeover of jobs by robots in In the Lurch. Already, automation has eliminated careers which were once performed by people. While I and other creators before me tend to support the take-over prediction, many people (including my dad) look forward to a more harmonious future.

Androids are Evil

The main fear most people have is that machines will become cognizant and take over the world or wipe out humanity. Is some stories, like the movie I, Robot, the robots are protecting people from the evils within humanity by exterminating all human. On the other hand, in The Matrix movies, robots enslave people and use them as fuel. Either way, it seems like the themes in these stories reflect more on the negative qualities of society rather than trying to accurately paint a future world.

I really appreciated that Detroit portrayed the burgeoning humanity of androids as being a positive movement for change (or maybe that’s just the ending I got?).

Spoilers for Origins by Dan Brown ahead:

The androids in Detroit reminded me of the technology Dan Brown featured in Origins. Throughout the book, Robert Langdon works with Winston, an AI which has been encouraged to make friendships with people. The big reveal at the end also showed Ed’s prediction of technology and humans evolving together to make a greater species than humans now. It’s rare to see technology as a force for positive change, so it’s refreshing when robots are cast in a good light in stories.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic. Do you believe machines will one day cross the threshold from lifelike to life-forms? Or will they always be just robots? Perhaps you think it’s too early to pore over this debate and you want to wait before forming an opinion. Let me know in the comments or share your thoughts on my post on Instagram.

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