June 22, 2017
So goes the scene in Mike Judge’s cult classic film Office Space, which is a cathartic release from the constant indignities of the modern worker. The printer is a source of chagrin for its regular paper-jam notifications and its inability to properly communicate with its human users. There is no trigger to feel compassion toward this inanimate object: It is only a machine, made of plastic, and filled with microchips and wires. When the printer met its demise, the audience felt only joy.
But what if this brutal assault had been on a human-looking machine that had cried out to its attackers for mercy? If instead of a benign-looking printer, it was given a name and human characteristics? Would we still mindlessly attack it? Would we feel differently?
As technology progresses from inanimate objects governed by numbers to human-looking machines controlled with conversations, it raises questions as to the compassion owed to artificial intelligence—and each other.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.