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But Are They Human?

Last night (rather, this morning), AdjectiveRecoil divulged a surprisingly profound story concept:

[00:17:59] AdjectiveRecoil: It also involves AIs.
[00:17:59] AdjectiveRecoil: But they don’t know they’re AIs.
[00:18:03] AdjectiveRecoil: They think they’re real people.
[00:18:23] AdjectiveRecoil: And then suddenly, it is revealed to them that their entire world, their entire existence, has been a computer simulation.
[00:18:32] AdjectiveRecoil: And it’s about to be turned off.
[00:18:48] AdjectiveRecoil: Kind of like the Matrix.
[00:18:57] AdjectiveRecoil: Except that it’s not people, but machines we’re talking about.
[00:19:09] AdjectiveRecoil: And they want to exist.
[00:19:28] AdjectiveRecoil: So the dilemma comes up: are they real people, or just machines?
[00:19:34] AdjectiveRecoil: And do they deserve to live?
[00:19:41] AdjectiveRecoil: Or can they just be switched off?
[00:20:01] AdjectiveRecoil: Also, they can be very human, because they’re programmed to think and act human.

And so, today, I’d like to ask you all: would you be interested in this story? Has anybody written something similar to this before? What was the short story called? The whole ‘machines so complex they’re humans’ must have been written about somewhere, right?

a.k.a.: having no posts to write is sufferin’

Edit: OK, I remember the film giving me intense déjà vu around this concept: Moon, about a clone who thinks he’s a real human because he was implanted with human memories. They’re not machines, but it’s close…

Edit 2: Another has suggested the Thirteenth Floor, about [SPOILERS] a person and his conflicts with a virtual reality world, only to find out that his own ‘real’ world is also virtual, and that he himself is just an artificial creation, or something.

Edit 3: The Island is also about clones who think they’re actually human; however, their perception of life is woefully lacking, as they have no memories of their past, unlike in Moon.

Edit 4: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Androids_Dream_of_Electric_Sheep%3F, and its film adaptation, Blade Runner, deal with sentient robots, including one who believes she’s human due to implanted memories. However, the robots only have a four-year lifespan, most are aware that they’re robots, and they generally lack empathy (allowing them to be distinguished from humans by some sort of futuristic polygraph test). Nevertheless, the main character has many problems distinguishing between real people and androids, so…

13 responses

  1. Noc

    If we’re talking clones, there’s also ‘The Island’, a movie (maybe a book too?) where clones are grown in order to harvest their organs later, unaware of the outside world and made to believe they are survivors of a deadly pandemic that wiped out the rest of humanity. Naturally a few find out the truth and decide they want to live…

    Short Circuit 1 + 2 deals with a robot built for military purposes becoming sentient and learning about life, later attempting to integrate itself with humans… many characters proclaim during both movies that the robot is alive and has a soul, which would imply that an attempt to dismantle him would be murder. I found the first movie to be horribly cheesy though, I highly recommend skipping straight to the second one. I mean, the second one is cheesy too, but its a tolerant level of cheese and has more serious parts to balance it out :/

    I’m sure there’s more as well. In any case, I like reading about many morally grey topics, so I would likely be interested in a story similar to what you’ve described. Being the sap that I am I’d probably get attached to them and say they deserve to live, but it would also depend on why they were under the threat of being switched off. Are they just not needed anymore, or are they threatening the lives of real humans somehow? That would make things more difficult for me.

    2012/08/21 at 00:59

  2. I wouldn’t say Short Circuit counts, since the robot doesn’t think he himself is a human. Similarly, The Island‘s clones think they’re real humans only because they have no experience of the outside world… then again, that seems awfully Plato’s Cave-like, and enlightenment might also be a central theme to these…

    2012/08/21 at 04:02

  3. Jay

    Try Bladerunner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?



    2012/08/21 at 15:09

  4. Oooh, those are good ones, but they seem to focus more on humans not knowing whether somebody is human or robot, with only I think one robot not knowing whether she herself’s a human or not.

    2012/08/21 at 21:15

  5. Do androids dream of romantic scene?

    Also as far as blade-runner goes, there are very strong hints in the movie that the main character himself is a robot made to hunt other robots. He doesn’t know, and it isn’t made sure whether he realizes this in the end or not.

    2012/08/22 at 04:25

  6. That’s the penalty I get for talking about things I haven’t watched….

    2012/08/22 at 04:57

  7. Jay

    Replicants I can live with. I worry more about “pod people” myself. Republicans as well as Democrats.

    2012/08/22 at 16:21

  8. I think the Pod People is truly a film to be worried about…

    2012/08/22 at 17:47

  9. Jay

    It was this film in particular I’m referring to. One I “grew up” on:


    Invasion trailor:

    2012/08/22 at 19:27

  10. Oh god, how can I not have watched this yet? The premise itself is so utterly disturbing and solipsist, that even now, I begin to doubt others’ humanity (as well as of the existence of the voices who type on this blog itself…)

    2012/08/22 at 23:45

  11. Jay

    I remember when an aunt turned on the set & this flick was playing (Now in my collection.). Even though I was just a kid & the film didn’t have what I would have considered “monsters”, I was still intrigued by it. Even today, I look around me & wonder about wether there’s something human or not behind the eyes of people I interact with. Are they real … alive? … Or just going through the motions.

    As for “the existence of the voices who type on this blog itself”… What … makes … you … doubt? ……………………..

    2012/08/23 at 05:48

  12. Floating purple squares are an indication of possible non-humanness. If I saw a mass of floating purple squares approach me down the alley I’d probably run

    (although I’d also do the same if a giant M appeared out of nowhere)

    2012/08/23 at 19:58

  13. Jay

    Actually I’m having problems with pixellation (One big pixel.).

    2012/08/24 at 16:54