Eugenics and A.I. in Science Fiction — Week 2 Response

It might seem the focal points of eugenics regard the manipulation of strictly human genetics, but the engineering of genes and the contrived genesis of “good” traits are not limited to strictly human subjects. Contemporary popular culture has explored the science of eugenics regarding both human subjects (such as those in Andrew Niccol’s film Gattaca) and non-humans—a good example of such being Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

The book envisions a near future where android manufacturing corporations create versions of androids that progressively become more streamlined with human responses to tests that measure for empathy (a human sentiment androids lack that cannot be imitated in non-biological entities). Updated models of androids are created overtime (ie, Type 6, Type 7, etc) in order to fix the aspects of their design that reveal them to be non-human when questioned. In this particular depiction of a near-future United States, androids that stray from their pre-ordained servant roles are targets for elimination due to the danger that their superior intelligence and self-awareness poses to human society. Android manufacturers routinely create updated models of their androids that are “fixed” so the rogue robots will not be as easily detected—thus, with the creation of each “Type,” the detection of a deviant android becomes more and more difficult to perform.

It is interesting to consider the implications of engineering artificially intelligent beings to behave within the frames of “acceptable” or “desired” modes of performance when most issues regarding eugenics surround organic subjects.

In Gattaca, couples are able to choose the traits they want for their offspring based upon all the already-existing traits present within their gene pool. This isn’t so far-fetched of an idea when contemplating the near future of eugenics. In a future where it’s possible for children to be born with their genetic strengths pre-selected, is it also feasible for future technology to be cultivated in a similar manner? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep concerns itself with androids, but with the sentience of AI an issue to consider as well, the realm of weeding out undesirable traits for androids (“humanoid robots”, as they are also referred to in Dick’s novel) is open as well for grooming computers or “smart” phones for acceptable performance within a specified spectrum. The line between being beneficial and hazardous to humanity blurs where the manipulation of genetics and traits are concerned, shunting the idea of “nature vs. nurture” in favor of regulating the issues previously ruled by chance and biology. Many science fiction writers have voiced grave concerns about a society that prizes maximum efficiency over the natural order of things, and many people alike are leery of the idea of “progress for the sake of progress.” As the scope of the abilities of technology and science (or technoscience) continually advance, issues surrounding the moral implications and the cost efficiency and conveniency will come at mount as well. Science fiction, it would seem, may become less the fiction and more the fact if convenience and efficiency are to be lauded as necessary for day-to-day life for people of the future—and their children.

Dorian Koehring

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