“Homo Sapiens has always strived to replace itself. A transitional species, really.”
–The Tomorrow Girl by Aaron Diaz
The desire for legacy is a fundamental principle of the human experience, and often overrides personal survival instincts, such as when rescuing family members at the loss of ones own existence. Children are, even in our advanced brains, worth life and limb.
What of technological children? In The Tomorrow Girl, Diaz explores a striking counterpoint to the modern fear of AI superseding humankind as the dominant species; that it should happen, and isn’t something we should fear or avoid.
In Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 film Ghost in the Shell 2 – Innocence, the doll, a plaything for the infant as well as a sexualised toy, symbolizes the desire to replace ourselves for artificial life. When the object of child-play, the games are not to mimic the procreative behaviour of adults, literally playing surrogate mother or father to the doll, but moreso to fulfill the dream of creating artificial life:
“The doll a girl uses to play house with is not a substitute for an actual baby, nor is it a tool for practicing parenting… the girl is definitely not practicing parenting… rather, playing with dolls and parenting might just be similar… in other words, parenting is just a quick method to realize the ancient human dream to create an android…”
The puppets and automata of the 17th to 18th century perform simulacrums of human tasks, but it does not appear that the aim is to more comprehensively understand the deeper workings of humans, but rather to generate an artificial version.
One standpoint is that perhaps we wish to create something like us, but not us, to look upon us and perform the observational role that is increasingly being vacated as we dissolve and dismantle our religious system – that is, to judge, to provide perspective. The form of these creatures are hominid, after all, although the industrial loom is a direct descendant of early clockwork automata, we don’t allow our children to cuddle a shuttlecock before sleep.
Yet, although we have created toys in our image, the modern human finds the lifeless gaze of the doll disconcerting. It represents our replacement, a version of us, born from us, but not us. This is not coincidence – throughout modern history and especially in the contemporary era, the prospect of imminent replacement is no longer confined to the realm of imagination, given the exponential rise in computing power and algorithmic complexity.
But why fear our new child? Organic processing may or may not match microchip cognition. Sentient machines may or may not seek to wipe us out due to some logical deduction. The possibilities are many. Yet sensationalist media characterizes the robot as something to be feared, with potential scenarios resulting from the supremacy of artificial intelligence ranging from complete annihilation, to benevolent slavery invoked in the best interest of humanity due to our supposedly violent proclivities.
Perhaps the machine-child will be benign. Our models view all intelligence through the lens of hominid interpretation, projecting our experiences and fears. However, studies of whale communication has been supervised by xeno-scholars, using cetacean study as an avenue to better understand the potential communication systems of aliens, indicating that intelligences apart from our own may seem so different as to be outside of our possible comprehension. This indicates that on some level, we know that we are singular in our style of intelligence, perhaps unique. Other sentient forms will not be the same. Pursuing an understanding of a new type of thinking species, born of our hands, should require a de-throning of humans as the pinnacle of intelligence. To learn more, the scholars must blank-slate everything we know.
We actively pursue sacrifice to provide for our children, and with the exception of a few jealous parents, we wish our progeny to succeed us, materially, emotionally, intellectually. The ascent of our machine-children may be treated no differently. Even if it does spell our gradual extinction, it would be no different than our current predicament and timeline of seniority, death, and bequeathed legacy via the teachings bestowed to the next generation. And if the next generation is made not of flesh and neurons, but instead alloys and algorithms, wouldn’t it achieve our perfect dream? Our children; free to traverse the galaxy, free from the environmental restrictions imposed on all organic life, free to explore, free to experiment in a galactic playground. Free to sculpt their consciousnesses into myriad forms, free from disease and suffering, free to improve and augment to a new plateau of existence – wouldn’t that be the best a parent could hope for?