Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Synthetic Humanity

"It's a test proven to measure human emotion.   we are accustomed to seeing some kind of response."

"You want me to be more like a human.... casually cruel to those closest to you and then crying over pictures of people you've never met."

So spoke a "synth" in the Channel 4 series Humans in which synthetic humanoids have been created to serve us in a slightly futuristic UK, and are becoming self aware.   Niska decides she wants to be tried as a human for a murder she has committed but first she has to prove she is conscious.   various images of joy, sorrow, exhilaration are projected onto a giant screen to elicit emotional reaction.  the above exchange is prompted by the interrogator after pictures of great suffering are shown leaving her seemingly unmoved.   

It started me thinking about what strange, inconsistent creatures we would appear to an emerging sentience seeking a moral code when the same people who portrayed refugees as a "swarm" of locusts to be exterminated, covered their social media accounts with saccharin RIP messages for a little asylum seeker washed up on an Italian beach. there are still 544 unaccompanied children in the Calais camp, the youngest is 10, where is the Facebook outrage for them?  it seems a child needs a name and a harrowing photo in the media to be worth our attention.
Government cuts have forced Cumbria to close it's last women's refuge and 17% nationally have had to shut their doors.   it's estimated 67% will be lost unless changes to housing benefit are reversed.  recently, after the much publicised trial in The Archers where Helen stabs the abusive Rob, a JustGiving page supported by followers of the program raised £135,000.  how can an imaginary character prompt such an outpouring of generosity when women and children made of flesh and blood are continuing to experience beatings at the hands of their partners because of a lack of funding and donations.

11 million people signed a petition last year claiming to be appalled by the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China.   yet, in the UK alone over a billion animals a year are transported for hours without food and water in cramped, noisy lorries to die in terror after being herded en masse into our  slaughter houses. hundreds of thousands being exported will be left untended in transporters for days in sweltering heat or ice cold conditions,  often arriving dead or in too poor a condition to be fit for human consumption.   what makes a Chinese dog's life worth more than that of the lamb you ate for Sunday dinner?  

The total number of animals killed in British slaughterhouses in 2013 was over a billion.
This included 9.8 million pigs, nearly 15 million sheep, 18 million turkeys, 14 million ducks, over 945 million chickens and 2.6 million cattle. Add to that 4.5 billion fish and 2.6 billion shellfish you have a total of over 8 billion animals killed in the UK each year.

How very much easier it is to be compassionate and cry crocodile tears over a fictional character, or a maudlin photo seen on a screen, than it is to allow ourselves to be moved by the plight of real people and creatures inhabiting this revolving rock.   perhaps it's a protection of our sanity against a sense of impotence that in the face of a rising tide of suffering catharsis overrides commitment, emotional release supersedes responsibility, avoidance is preferable to action.   

Maybe our synth in her cold, calculated honesty voiced more humanity in that one sentence than we express in a lifetime of false emoting.  

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