Android 18 (Dragonball Z)
Over the past decades, humans have been constantly trying to improve robotics and artificial intelligence. Brilliant minds had already created robots and androids capable of helping us in everyday life. This may not be that evident yet to us ordinary people in third world countries, but there is no denying that technological innovations continue to improve over time. Thus there will come a time when humans would have to re-evaluate their perceptions about androids. For this re-evaluation, two things need to be answered: first, do androids have consciousness, and second, can androids be considered as human beings?
In this 21st century, it is probably hard to think about androids as more than just machines so let us take a peek into the future where technology far exceeds the technology that we know now.
Tokyo, Japan, Year 2510- Youichi wakes up to the sound of curtains being pulled, and sunlight streaming through his bedroom window. He opens his eyes and sees a woman’s smiling face gently urging him to wake up. He turns to his side, looks at the clock, and realizes that he needs to get ready for school. The woman, Chiharu, goes out of his room and makes her way to the dining room downstairs. Youichi follows afterwards, grabs a chair, and eagerly waits while she prepares his breakfast.
After a while, the woman placed a plate of food in front of him. He smiled; she really knew what his favorite foods are. Well, no wonder about that, since she has been taking care of him since he was a baby. Because his parents think that just providing for his monetary needs was enough, she became both his guardian and best friend. He tells her about his problems, and she gives him advice. She makes him feel safe; cheers him up when he is sad; scolds him when he does something wrong; and teaches him many things about life. She is an irreplaceable part of his life, and she is an android.
For Youichi, being an android or a human does not really make that much of a difference. Humans shun androids because we think they are just machines, and are thus not conscious. But what is consciousness in the first place?
Oxford takes consciousness to mean an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your surroundings, or maybe being aware of something. But this, along with the other dictionaries’ definitions, though widespread, does not really explain everything about consciousness. Until now, there are many studies being done and theories being laid as to what this concept really means; even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that there is still no agreed upon theory about consciousness. Also, having definitions and theories about consciousness that are conflicting makes one doubt about the validity of this argument. In the present, maybe the two most known theories of the mind are dualism and materialism. In dualism, it basically says that while the body is material or matter, consciousness is non-material or non-matter. While in materialism, it is more on the technical side, which considers the brain as the mind.
However, these two theories could be easily contested. Dualism faces Rene Descartes’ mind-body problem. How could a non-matter interact with matter or vice versa? Also, since the two solutions given to this was to allow only the body to exist, or to allow only the mind to exist, then this already disproves the dualism theory which says that both exist. On the other hand, materialism would have to answer to the fact that humans have not completely understood every aspect of the brain, which poses two major issues. First, current science has not yet completely explained how neural activities or other brain activities make us conscious. Second, there is Joseph Levine’s (1983) idea of an ‘explanatory gap’ which questions how or why consciousness, a non-matter, depends on a material substance.
Besides, there are many types of consciousness. Rosenthal (1986), Gennaro (1995), and Carruthers (2000) give us some types of consciousness that can be applied to whole organisms (creature consciousness) or limited to just some of mental processes (state consciousness). Here are some types under creature consciousness: sentience – being able to sense and respond to the environment, wakefulness – being awake, and self-consciousness – being aware that you are aware. The boundaries of these types are not really that defined which makes it harder.
But to answer the first question posed in this article (do androids have consciousness), all of these works to my advantage. I can say that androids are conscious because all the definitions and theories of consciousness written above also apply to them, as can be seen in the short story presented here before.
Now the only question left is whether or not androids can be considered as human beings. If people would insist that androids cannot be counted as human beings simply because only humans are conscious, then it seems to me that theirs is a weak argument, if not totally absurd. Why use the concept of consciousness as the defining factor of who is or who is not a human when there is no single and universally approved meaning of what consciousness is? If this is the case then I could simply say that androids are human beings because they are conscious.
But this explanation may not be sufficient for some people so for the sake of it, we will try to find out how human beings are considered human beings. There are many explanations on who a human is. If we look at it from a religious perspective, the Catholic bible states that humans are those made in the image and likeness of God. God gave this human a soul which sets it apart from the other creatures. Others say we are human because of our body structure- the result of our evolution to Homo sapiens, or that we are humans because we are not programmed. Still others would say that human beings are human beings simply because they are born from other human beings.
However, all these can be contradicted. First, the existence of God itself is a mystery, one that is still being debated until now. And if the existence of a God who gives souls cannot be proved, then the religious definition of a human becomes null. Second, if our body structure makes us human then if another creature looks and acts human, that creature is also a human. Or we can say that since rats have almost the same biological structure as us, then they should be humans as well. Rats are used for medicinal experiments precisely because of this. Also, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is not accepted by everyone (i.e. religious people, scientists who believe we came from some other specie) so it cannot be used as a basis. And if the sole existence of evolution makes one ‘human’, then androids also have their own form of evolution, albeit not exactly the same as us. For the programming part, though we do not need to install software to run, humans are also programmed to conform to things. We have our self-preservation instincts; we follow rules about how to do things or how to go with our lives. Or to make it simpler, animals and plants are also not programmed, so following the argument, animals and plants should be considered humans as well. As for the last argument, for me this is the one we should ponder about – how can we be so sure that we are humans? We can be androids ourselves, just implanted with false memories; or our minds can be playing tricks on us telling us that we are human. We could also be shape shifters whose ancestors mingled with humans and decided to look like them. Or worse, we could just be figments of another creature’s imagination, and therefore not really existing in this world. On another note, there are some human beings whose behavior we cannot really consider human.
The main point is that there is really no distinct line that separates species from each other. We just think that way, and unconsciously discriminate. But if we cannot pinpoint what exactly makes us so different and so special that we put other creatures beneath us, then we should start considering that those other creatures could just very well be one of us.
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