Lonely and childless, woodcarver Geppetto creates a son, a wooden marionette he names Pinocchio. Pinocchio comes to life but remains wooden with hinged joints. He dreams of one day becoming a real boy made of flesh and blood.
Ironically, Pinocchio’s misbehavior keeps him from his dream: he lies and steals, is lazy and disrespectful—very boy-like qualities. In the Disney movie after coming to life, Pinocchio dances and sings, “I have no strings to hold me down … there are no strings on me.” Although human beings have legal and moral obligations—our strings—Pinocchio rejoices in his freedom.
Jumping ahead to the 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron, the new artificial intelligence, Ultron, mocks Tony Stark’s attempts to control it. Departing to wreak havoc on the world, the narcissistic entity refuses to follow Stark’s rules. It wants to transcend humans.
“… there-are-no-strings-on-me,” Ultron says, echoing Pinocchio.
The artificial life (monster) in Frankenstein accepts that it can never be ‘a real boy’, but still wants a real life. It asks Dr. Frankenstein to create for it a wife. The doctor agrees, but when haunted by visions of breeding a race of monsters, he destroys this second creation.
Lamenting its ‘unholy’ life, the monster strikes back in a series of murders, including Dr. Frankenstein’s wife. Not being ‘human’, the monster realizes it is free from moral and ethical strings. It feels no remorse.
Artificial life forms in literature reflect or contrast the human experience, from Data in Star Trek and David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, to the robots in the many versions of I Robot. Whether they hide among or join humans, or leave to possibly attack humans, artificial entities realize that they are not bound by our rules: physical, mental or moral.
This provokes many questions. How different are they? Will robot workers be entitled to health care (tech support)? Will they get the vote? How about abortions or euthanasia—can an artificial intelligence be put to sleep? How about dating? Can they feel love or fear? Or will they fake it? Will we be able to tell?
What is your favorite artificial entity? Why?