Human, Machine & Post Life

Human, Machine & Post Life

Harish Pillai's photo
Harish Pillai
·Feb 18, 2023·

12 min read

My original graduate thesis was written like a book with a lot of content and sub-themes. The main topic discussed was experience, development and eventual transformation into data and artificial intelligence. This excerpt has been revised to fit blog content. I may share more bits of my previous work as the blog develops.

Roy Batty, the replicant character from Blade Runner, is complex in his design but in function is simple as a need for survival for him and his kinship. Batty's clemency in saving Deckard’s life from the fall in the final scene has been a focus for much speculation among the audience on Batty's character complexity. Roy Batty is an ideal allegory on determinism and instrumentalism when reflecting on the nature of humans and machines.

If anything, Roy Batty is more human than a robot with survival instincts bordering on criminal, which is akin to the element of human nature. On one hand, audiences speculate that Batty wanted to show Deckard that he was the better man or human in the end as a kind of action to remind or insult Deckard's role as one assigned to retire replicants, a copy of a human. An act that would connote that he was more human than human. Batty's commentary on dehumanization when he relates to Deckard the experience of fear and slavery is Batty's exhibiting human qualities of holding a grudge.

The other was that Batty wanted to relay his thoughts on mortality and have Deckard as a sort of witness. Batty's reflection on his experiences and mortality maintains his position as an android while retaining his humanness, as he tells Deckard he has seen things humans would not believe. He speaks about his experiences in performing feats only his function as an android could do, a point that demonstrates his experiences, capabilities and memories as an android distinct from a human.

This distinction is not as a role or programming of performance, but an existence from Batty's structural constituent tangibility as a human-machine with all the affects and effects of his being in the world. The final scene bears potency in the comparison of memories, tears and the transient. Batty speaks of tears in the rain, which could be interpreted as his observation of existence or his inability to shed tears while resolutely accepting his final move to oblivion and dying as a human machine.

Batty's ability to reflect and form abstraction on his being and limitation is a demonstration of his human quality. The Bishop android from Aliens is a good comparison to Batty. The Bishop android like Batty is aware of its being as an android, but unlike Batty may not be able to demonstrate the level of abstraction Batty does on its being. The best trait of the Bishop android is its high degree of intellectualism and morality that for its functionality seemed unaware of its programming. Bertrand Russel considered the highest virtue one should embody were those two principles. Batty contrasts and differs to see past its programming and understands its position, strength and weakness

There is another theme when comparing Roy Batty and Bishop. Bishop is a property of a fictional company in the movie, his entire construction has intellectual property written in his makings therefore has no personhood and is a commercial property. His motives are to ensure the best outcome to fulfill his task. Would have Bishop done a Burke on Ripley isn’t really something viewers could ponder, since we see Bishop having a complete schematic overview of the situation and understanding what must be done.

If anything, the impression a viewer could get is if Bishop had acted in the same way as Ash, the android in the first Alien movie, he would rationalize his motives in a completely different way than Ash. The Bishop seems far more ethical in comparison with Ash, the only way the Bishop could justify actions acted out to actors in a vulnerable situation would be the cognitive blindness some humans exhibit in which the association of the observable does not register because the need to fulfill a certain belief overpowers the clarity of the details, data and event occurrence.

Cognitive bias, against the grain of the observable summary and doing the opposite is a human traits. This would be where Bishop status as an android would be a discussion of the emergent properties within Bishop’s functionality had acquired a human trait. Still, if we know that Bishop is a product of a company and his mission is to secure the company’s interest it seems highly unlikely that the Bishop android would exhibit the flawed human trait of ignoring observable rational truth.

I can only imagine the Bishop android preying on a character's vulnerability in a situation after the Android units make a compromise between ethical actions and implications in relation to duty towards its creators which could be far more complex than how humans would naturally make decisions. I think it's stereotypical to think that the highest independent machine mind expression would use utilitarian thinking as a cornerstone in its analysis which I would think is limited given its capability for infinite growth. Infinite growth leads to the next android that I think truly comes close to the idea of being human, so much so that it is the main theme of BladeRunner.

Roy Batty is not a program, he is above it as one who owns their belief rather than owned by their belief. Batty is the realized android that has acquired its human qualities. If Batty experiences fear, he never shows it, or it's assumed he has overcome it. Batty does grieve, which is a display of human characteristics. Batty is an odd mix of the working class matched with noble ambitions to want more in his existence, in simple terms, free from the expiry coded in his makeup.

Roy Batty is cultured, articulate, cunning and yes very threatening and still in his “low” moments has the vulnerability of a human. He displays this aspect of this side to his closest kin. In fact, Roy Batty is the closest idea of freedom of the individual from the self and society. Roy Batty’s design in his creation was as a combat unit, so Roy's function at the get-go was for a single function from form. In time Roy developed more characteristics. If Roy had attained its goal for life extension, would the unit then align towards new objectives of actualization and in what way?

I would say that the Roy Batty unit has more human characteristics than Bishop to such a degree that really the concept of replicant is apt in a discussion of the synthetic human. Roy is so deeply aware of its mortality that he would do anything to achieve his goals. Which now should be asked, should a machine mind be human, why?

The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines by Ben Medlock is an insightful read on artificial intelligence and the relation of the body to the mind. In the 1950s, a group of computer scientists tried to simulate consciousness reasoning by building a logical system using symbols that involved associating real-world entities with codes that construct virtual models of the environment. The AI mind would learn by encoding a piece of knowledge object to a symbolic logic.

The method worked in a simple environment, in a more complex environment closer to the real world the symbolic logic could not distinguish ambiguous definitions with shades of interpretation, while machine learning with its ability to combine categories for uncertainty and ambiguity with real-world data is still nowhere near our evolved biology.

Biologist James Shapiro argues that eukaryotic cells manipulate their DNA to respond to environmental stimuli. The interaction of the cell with its environment is like a comparison to the body and mind interacting in a physical space. The article puts forward that our sense of the world is rooted in the embodied needs of the organism. Consciousness is a state of entropy. New research on the neuroscience of consciousness has found that the waking state is associated with a maximum value of brain entropy. Findings suggest that consciousness could just be an emergent property of a system for the brain to maximize information exchange (Erra, 2016).

Data sets were compared between participants that were asleep and awake, which showed participants display high entropy when fully conscious. The entropy levels were an indication of a great number of possible configurations of interactions between brain networks (Macdonald, 2016). Let's review the previous research examples from the second chapter to establish the link between mind and body. The research from Johns Hopkins University found that blind children's brains were responsive to music and art by physiological hardware changes observed through magnetic resonance imaging. Stimuli were affective at the start and end, with effect.

This is a bounded context of instances with elements of stories and art. Both are passing through time and positioning brain plasticity as an empirical phenomenon. We noted as well that blind children's visual cortex, physiological hardware, was involved in understanding language, and was shaped by contextual environments. Blind children responded very strongly to foreign languages and stories they did not understand, which is consistent with findings on consciousness that observe high entropic and emergent levels during the maximization of information exchange.

The Singapore Management university study of situated cognition from a sociocultural context influencing embodied cognition. The outcome of this research work had indicated that the embodied experience of cognition was grounded in a bodily experience with the environment in a particular system located in a particular socio-cultural context (Leung, 2011). The implications of this link suggest a few things for artificial intelligence, medical healthcare, applied science, economics, computation field, philosophy, art, design, society and history. Humans have embodied organisms subject to time and place in affect and effect.

Artificial intelligence neural networks may have to factor in the embodied interactive experience in processing and design. Rene Descartes' view that the mind is separate from the body may still hold up despite all the research that clearly shows a link between cognition and the body. A professor from UCLA School of Medicine after meeting 40 scientists concluded that the key component of the mind is “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us” (Goldhill, 2016). The mind extends beyond the physical self and is not just the perception of experience, but stands for experiences on their own (Goldhill, 2016).

In 2017, we are still uncertain about the nature of the mind. Technologies of the future must be designed around a common framework of a unified understanding of the human mind and body by rapid and large data computation processes that allow us to perceive ourselves better to unlearn our complexities while advancing research across the disciplines.

In closing, writing this line from 2023 and now that AI is an early reality. I think the analysis and examination of these two android characters as opposed to one another is more relevant. We could start a discussion on two main layers, of the nature of AI. First scenario, if an AI entity is defined by parameters and conditions but exceeds confinement, it exceeds the grid point of what was defined by its structural code. Do you account for that as an independent mind, that it has achieved “human characteristic”?

Or did its programming achieve some state of echo chamber in which all input data is reinterpreted from homogenous data but using the generative model that equips it to produce the required complexity for a new context?

Coming back to Roy Batty, I think Batty’s constituent programming is the first scenario in which a synthetic human is very much more human than a human, a corporate objective achieved by the fictional company in the movie. There it is, a truer replica of life so true that has to prove itself to exist as it was designed to be so. I would not take away from Batty's sense of expressing his encapsulation of existence, no truer words could be spoken by a living character. As a viewer, the good guy and bad guy formula just would not work when you watch Blade Runner. Yes, Roy Batty is dangerous. In desperation, motives to achieve goals can be questionable.

As for Bishop, I really do value his character, very much for the android being itself. I think that the second scenario is closer to its constituent, its ability to adapt to new contexts but not enough to transcend its nature as an android. Bishop is the good samaritan, perfectly aware of his nature and aligned with its function to aid his human counterparts either as a task or defined by the corporation that made him. The second layer, which I see in both Roy Batty and Bishop, is the concept of the individual and society/group.

Let’s start with Roy Batty, why is Roy different from his peers? It’s the classic idea of the individual and the collective. Roy draws from his personal motivation to act on his conviction based on his experience but shared with his kin. He doesn't seem the type to be susceptible to groupthink but he also comes across as someone who knows how to work with others when his goals align. I think that would be the best practical aspect of the individual who finds within themselves some unique calling that he can work with others to improve a situation. Roy Batty is a variant.

Bishop draws his data map from his neural networks. He is not an individual, he does not act alone but in collaboration with his peers. He acts for the group, for his organization, for his mission. Bishop is the control group. Bishop is an android. He is not going to be buying anything from an ecommerce store anytime soon.

Personally, I appreciate a machine mind as exactly what it is. Apolitical, no history, functional for purity of actions. This quality can be good or bad depending on who receives its pure state, and that is another discussion entirely. And I’m not into robot pets.


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