The other night, I dreamed about being on a rescue team that was going to rescue a sentient mechanical doll from some bad guys. I remember that the other team members and I were heading to the airport and we were trying to figure out how to get through the TSA without them mucking everything up. We had frying pans and rubber kitchen utensils. And I was going to use the rubber kitchen utensils like ninja throwing stars.
In the second part of the dream, I was observing a scene at a department store. The toymaker who made the mechanical dolls was carting them around in a box. Each of the dolls were dressed up in different ethnic costumes from around the world. A woman who looked like Angelina Jolie (but wasn’t her, really) came by and picked up a doll dressed up in a traditional Chinese costume. The toymaker warned the Angelina-look-alike that the doll needed to be fed or it won’t move and that punishing it would make the doll cry.
Angelina-look-alike seemed genuinely puzzled with the directions and asked “Why?”
“Well, it’s a person,” replied the toymaker. “You wouldn’t punish a child just because you could.”
“But it’s not a person. It’s just a doll.”
And the toymaker went into a fit as the Angelina Jolie look-alike made the doll wear western clothing.
I woke up wondering, philosophically, what really defines a person. I’m thinking that a person, someone who has awareness, is not necessarily the same thing as a human being. And if, say, these mechanical dolls in my dream had awareness, we would probably be obligated to treat them on equal footing like every other sentient person. I don’t think the simple fact that something that doesn’t have the same DNA as we do is grounds to treat them less “humanely.”
* * *
This afternoon, I went to someone’s master’s thesis defense seminar and ended up thinking about nanobots. I swear that I was not daydreaming. This has relevance to this person’s master thesis.
Anyways, the thesis dealt with cow reproduction–particularly using hormones to control the bovine estrous cycle. This is useful for agriculture because this would allow cattle operations to efficiently manage their animals–i.e. they can control cattle reproduction to fit their schedule and the demands of the market.* This totally reminded me of a book I recently read (I may also end up reviewing this book, too. But no, it was not this book), where human reproduction was controlled by the bad guys with nanobots. The nanobots were hidden in the sugar supply so that everyone got inoculated. And whenever they wanted to stage an orgy, all they had to do was turn on the control tower.
And I was thinking: this is exactly like that book. Except with cows and hormone injections. And we humans are the “bad guys” – relatively speaking. If the cattle had any sort of awareness about this going on, wouldn’t these animals be rather disgruntled to learn that we were in control of their love lives?
*At this point, you may wonder why a microbiology student is even at this seminar in the first place. Well, I know the person who was defending and I went there to support her–even though I was mostly clueless about her research.