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The New Racism Revisited

Alex recently posted an interesting entry on human beings' penchant for prejudice. His argument was that, even those of us who aren't racist, human beings are already actively prejudiced against those different from us: namely, robots. It sounds far-fetched, to be sure, but he makes a plausible argument. I still don't know where I stand as far as the inevitability of the type of AI he's referring to. But given that it is inevitable, "human rights" for these robots are also inevitable.

Then, yesterday, someone on the NAFA Forum linked to an article on CNN about Second Life. The article was about a couple (married in real life) that had gotten "married" in the game, and were now divorcing, because of the husband "cheating" with another avatar. Initially, my first reaction was the inevitable "Slow news day?" cynicism. But it made me think for a minute, and I tried to remove myself from the situation, and think about it from a purely logical standpoint. I'll paste part of my reply because I worded it well-enough there:
And I'm thinking: how, really, is it that absurd? I wonder if an alien race would think it absurd that we care if someone who regularly connects body parts with us was found to be connecting body parts with someone else. Tracing it back through time, it's really just a matter of hurt feelings. Those feelings probably arrived as a byproduct of our genes getting pissed off that they're not getting passed on. But nobody consciously thinks about that when they find their lover in bed with another. And since we have those emotions attached, the physical action is nothing more now than just a manifestation of those feelings.

So, if a large part of your life is in a video game, and that's what's important to you, and you have feelings derived from a "close" relationship with someone in that world, then having someone "cheat" on you could potentially be just as hurtful. The feelings are still just as real (as sad as that may seem to someone outside of that world).
This thinking, to me, tied back in to what Alex had written a week or two ago. We're already in the middle of the new racism. We're already prejudiced, not necessarily to robots themselves, but to robotic or virtual manifestations of real human beings. People like to tout the internet as insusceptible to prejudice because of its anonymity regarding sex, race, etc. But, I argue, maybe society isn't even over being prejudiced towards the group as a whole.

Though topically similar (yet irrelevant to this post), I have a lot more to write about regarding the acceptability of the internet as a news outlet, entertainment medium, etc. That will have to wait for another day.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
You seem to have missed an important detail (since you air-quoted "married"), so I'll post it here: They were married in Real Life, too.

Also, FWIW, I think that cheating is more about the disregard for loyalty and faithfulness to your relationship than any particular act in and of itself. Whether I proposition a hooker in Vegas, get down with someone in Second Life, or send love letter to an ex girlfriend across town, it's all cheating IMO.
Nov. 17th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Ah, I seem not to have included that minor detail. I put quotation marks around the word because there is no such thing as a legal marriage in a virtual game.
Nov. 17th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
And yes, cheating isn't about the act itself. The act is just a surrogate for the emotional slap in the face.
Nov. 17th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
In regards to prejudice against robots and why it happens, I think the answer lies in how we explain the Uncanny Valley. Also, why people feel repulsion towards zombies and corpses.

Then go watch Ghost In The Shell.


Also, while I see the injustice of racism and sexual discrimination, it's hard for me to extend this line of thinking towards artificial life, simply because there is a well-defined heirarchy of creator and creation. When we start asking the question of "what degree of intelligence deserves it's own rights?", we get into the realm of "do animals have rights?" Then it's goodbye burgers.
Nov. 17th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
When we start asking the question of "what degree of intelligence deserves it's own rights?", we get into the realm of "do animals have rights?"

A good chunk of society is pretty far into that realm. But by what line of thinking did we create animals?

If a robot is able to produce another robot, and we are not the creator of that machine, does that not imply rights?
Nov. 19th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
Um. We didn't create animals. Read the question again: "what degree of intelligence deserves it's own rights?" It's a separate argument.
Nov. 19th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
But apply that to your first argument. If you can't extend those rights to machines simply because of the creation hierarchy, then shouldn't you extend those rights to animals, since there isn't one?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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