Kara – by Quantic Dream

Aside from the technological capabilities of the PS3 (Sony does it again – w00t), this video is very interesting from a more… philosophical standpoint.

I’m what one would call a “fan” of Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese anime series, iconic in the world of robotics geeks and cybernetics nuts. Kara’s creation seems quite linked to Kusanagi’s. What they explored already in their stories was interesting as a take. The characters comment throughout their missions on feeling androids, an entire plot was focused on an AI that had become self-aware and was seeking a body, the transferal of souls onto otherwise generic robots (“ghost-dubbing”)… But it all ended up being somewhat dark or just plain cold. It was hard to sympathise with the AIs sometimes.

The plot of one specific film, Ghost in the Shell : Innocence, centred around sex androids (the “gynoids”) who came into life knowing their undesirable purpose; deliberately, desperately and violently malfunctioning to make people investigate their production line, and realize what they were; as they bitterly resented being conscious.

We weep for a bird’s cry, but not for a fish’s blood. Blessed are those with a voice. If the dolls also had voices, they would have screamed, “I didn’t want to become human…”

In Quantic Dream’s video however we see one answering diagnositc questions even as it is being born – one that is aware it is an artificial construct (“I answered the questions correctly didn’t I?”) and who, even through the knowledge she is born with, willing to accept her role – but just for the chance to remain in a state of “alive.” She is a synthetic form of Life – isn’t she?

There is a biological concept of “alive,” that being an entity distinguished from non-living counterparts, as possessing self-sustaining mechanisms that can go on to change not exclusively from external stimuli. Normally this definition of life implies organic entities – if we remove that restriction, all known life on this planet remains organic. The question then is: can synthetic Life exist? If it becomes self-aware, can we truly recognize independent thought?

[I would like to insert here a video from GitS relating to the definition of life from an AI – though if you intend to see the film, be warned that this contains a major spoiler]

Kara is indistinguishable to us, despite her obvious synthetic nature, from a human being. She speaks like a human, her face marvels at her own body like that of a child who has happened upon faeries…. and she screams fear of death like one determined to live. With the right triggers and setup, maybe a faceless box that would scream for its life should you approach the power plug too abruptly would guilt you into thinking you could kill it. Empathy for things we believe to have souls and fear of ceasing to exist – that is how we know we ourselves are alive, but we cannot prove anyone else is.

Unlike the Puppet Master and the gynoids, we can empathise with Kara. She is not cold, she is not devious, she is not calculating. She wants to live and her calls are ever more desparate as she loses each limb we just moments ago saw assembled onto her.

She’s just a machine just as we are just lumps of meat.

We were born in the wild, legitimate fodder for other animals, and merely another piece of the ecosystem. We had the ability however to step beyond our initial place – an dour own ranks became fodder for eachother, from clan wars to serfdom to slavery – and then onwards to emancipation and equality. Not so long ago, some humans were considered… not-human. We are reminded of that frequently, as one of our greatest mistakes that we should not make again.

Now we are faced with the idea that even being homo sapiens may not be prerequisite to being human. One day, Kara’s kind may even demand to go to church – not so much out of belief in God, but such acceptance into a religious community would validate to themselves and their supporters that yes, they have individual souls.

The further we go with technology and artificial intelligence, and the more we attempt to create androids in our image, with our capabilities, then the more we’ll have to look into the idea of a soul born of synthetics, how to identify it, and how to treat it should it occur without our intending it to…

If there is no such thing as a soul, and we are the logical result of chemical reactions, why would machines running algorithms then be denied such a possibility? And if there is such a thing as a soul, is it truly confined to only being capable of existing from a biological entity?

We understand clearly how we got from “no-tech” to “hi-tech”, and we know that there was “no-life” in tech to start off with – but if we finally one day understood how we got from “no-life” to “bio-life”, and from “bio-life” to sentient life, and if we recognized sentience in a system that we built… that would either make us gods, or need to question the explanation of gods needing to exist to create life in the first place…

And maybe, eventually, we may even be able to pinpoint a soul on an MRI scan…

I leave you now with some quotes from Ghost in the Shell, with the corresponding links (same as in the above text).

Ghost in the Shell – spoken by the sentient AI

It can also be argued that DNA s nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So man is an individual only because of his intangible memory. And a memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. The advent of computers and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.

Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?

Ghost in the Shell – definition of life

Puppet Master: I refer to myself as an intelligent life form because I am sentient and I am able to recognize my own existence, but in my present state I am still incomplete. I lack the most basic processes inherent in all living organisms: reproducing and dying.
But you can copy yourself.
Puppet Master:
A copy is just an identical image. There is the possibility that a single virus could destroy an entire set of systems and copies do not give rise to variety and originality. Life perpetuates itself through diversity and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary. Cells repeat the process of degeneration and regeneration until one day they die, obliterating an entire set of memory and information. Only genes remain. Why continually repeat this cycle? Simply to survive by avoiding the weaknesses of an unchanging system.

Ghost in the Shell 2 : Innocence – spoken by a robot forensics inspector

Unlike industrial robots, the androids and gynoids designed as “pets,” weren’t designed along utilitarian or practical models. Instead, we model them on a human image, an idealized one at that. Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves?

Children have always been excluded from the customary standards of human behavior, if you define humans as beings who possess a conventional identify and act out of free will. Then what are children who endure in the chaos preceding maturity? They differ profoundly from “humans,” but they obviously have human form. The dolls that little girls mother, are not surrogates for real babies. Little girls aren’t so much imitating child rearing, as they are experiencing something deeply akin to child rearing. Raising children is the simplest way to achieve the ancient dream of artificial life. At least, that’s my hypothesis…

Ghost in the Shell 2 : Innocence – spoken by a storyline antagonist

The definition of a truly beautiful doll is a living, breathing body devoid of a soul. “An unyielding corpse, tiptoeing on the brink of collapse.”

The human is no match for a doll, in its form, its elegance in motion, its very being. The inadequacies of human awareness become the inadequacies of life’s reality. Perfection is possible only for those without consciousness, or perhaps endowed with infinite consciousness. In other words: for dolls and for gods.

Ghost in the Shell 2 : Innocence – same act, new scene, second quote:

The doubt is whether a creature that certainly appears to be alive, really is. Alternatively, the doubt that a lifeless object might actually live. That’s why dolls haunt us. They are modeled on humans. They are, in fact, nothing but human. They make us face the terror of being reduced to simple mechanisms and matter. In other words, the fear that, fundamentally, all humans belong to the void.

Further, science, seeking to unlock the secret of life, brought about this terror. The notion that nature is calculable inevitably leads to the conclusion that humans too, are reducible to basic, mechanical parts.

“The human body is a machine which winds its own springs. It is the living image of perpetual motion.”

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