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What Makes A Person? Exploring The Ethics of The TechnoFuture In “Almost Human”

12 Dec

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If you haven’t already been watching Fox’s new futuristic Sci-Fi cop drama, you should be!

Almost Human, the newest J.J. Abrams show created by J. H. Wyman, is a show about the police force of the future in 2048 in which the uncontrolled technological advances in America has risen the crime rate by over 400% and, in an effort to meet the rising crime rates, police officers are paired up with androids as partners that are combat-ready.

Detective John Kennex, played by Karl Urban, is distrustful of androids after waking up from a seventeen month coma after his android partner abandoned him in his refusal to leave a fallen human co-worker, which resulted in the man’s death and Kennex ending up having to have an android prosthetic leg. When he returns to work and destroys his first android, he is assigned a more lifelike model: A DRN

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The DRN androids are an older model. They were made to be as human as possible, meaning they have the ability to feel and understand emotions like a human. Unlike the MX model androids like the police force uses, the DRN model androids were most often decommissioned after they developed emotional problems. Kennex’s partner, nicknamed Dorian and played by Michael Ealy (above), is unlike the other police androids in that he has a personality. He has emotions. He even is offended by being called a ‘Synthetic’.

What distinguishes Man from Machine?

One theme that runs throughout the show (so far, it’s only a few episodes in admittedly) is the concept of ‘what is a person’? The MX androids are devoid of any real human characteristics other than appearance, and even that looks synthetic. Though they speak and react like they are thinking for themselves, they are clearly programed based on logic and nothing else. Kennex views them so far from ‘human’ that in the first episode he actually throws his MX android partner from a moving vehicle, facilitating its complete destruction.

This raises the question to the viewers that, if the other androids are just machines, what is Dorian? Is he just another machine even though he has a character and a personality?

In the episode “Skin”, the police force is sent into the world of IRCs – Intimate Robot Companions – which are basically ‘sexbots’. They are a legal trade since IRCs are reported to have decreased the rate of sexual violence significantly, and the IRCs (mostly females) are sold in showrooms like cars. In the course of the episode, one of the IRCs, named Vanessa, asks where her ‘friend’ (another IRC) Vanessa is and if she can see her. Dorian realizes that Vanessa is designed to form a bond with people and to miss them (presumably so that the owner of the IRC will feel wanted). When Vanessa has to be deactivated, she asks Dorian where she’s going and he tells her “to a better place” (something he had learned earlier in the episode from Kennex). Dorian then witnesses her being deactivated.

What Does Understanding Do to a DRN?

The problem with the DRNs was explained as “emotional problems” that made them “volatile”, but it’s easy to understand why this might be so. Dorian, unlike the other androids at the police station, is aware that he is not real. He feels like a person, he has emotions like a person, and he has a personality that is distinctly developed from his ability to understand and process human thoughts and emotions. But he still knows that he’s not a “real person”.

Like with Vanessa, he knows that he too will one day cease to be useful and be deactivated. He says at one point, “I may not have had a childhood, I may not have been born, but I act out of free will, and my memories mean something to me.”

It isn’t hard to understand why the DRNs would have emotional problems when they are aware that, though they feel like a person, they’re not. It is the truest form of dehumanization, to literally not be a human being, but to feel the same as one.

What Other Questions of Ethics Will Almost Human give us?

I’m very interested to find out, actually! The most recent episode touched on the idea of human cloning, which is another TechnoFuturistic ethical debate waiting to be had. I’m very excited to see what other questions of ethics Almost Human will make the audience think about, because so far it has been extremely thought provoking.

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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