Love, Death & Robots: philosophy of mind for teapots

Netflix has released a new animated anthology television series about robots which literally in a week received hundreds of millions of fans around the world. The reason for such popularity is, in particular, in the popularisation of the relevant philosophical ideas.

I warn the reader of this text that it contains several spoilers so if you think the newness of the plot is crucially important to make the series interesting, I recommend reading only after watching it.

The first season consists of 18 episodes, the authors of which are the directors from many countries, there is even one episode of the Russian author (“Blindspot” by Vitaliy Sushko, the animator from Saint-Petersburg). Such an approach, on the one hand, ruins the genre and stylistic unity (since not each film can be called animated), on the other hand – it turns the series into the online film festival, where every new episode is a surprise.

The pleasant thing about the series is that its ideological component coincides with the ideas of modernity, i.e. with the philosophy of mind, the direction which in the XXI century became especially relevant when we every day expect the explosion of the so-called Technological Singularity – the moment of creation of self-conscious artificial intellect which would get out hand. And the issue of “self-consciousness” has been long troubling the philosophers. Some of them, for example, the Austrian Thomas Metzinger states in his book “The Ego Tunnel” that mind doesn’t exist at all: this is an illusion that emerged in humans as a result of natural selection for a high-quality prediction of predatory behavior. Metzinger believes that only the organisms capable of prediction “recognize” themselves, that is, they have a certain center of attention which they can concentrate on anything for a long time and then preserve the result of their observance in memory.

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

The similar problem is being solved in the first episode “Sonnie’s Edge”. The ambiguity of the name is very important for a plot where Sonnie’s gladiator-woman with the help of mental neuro-implants manages a gigantic combat bio-morpheus robot. Before the match on the arena, the mafia leader offers her to lose for big money but she refuses. On the arena, it suddenly turns out that bio-morpheus of the rival has a sharpened razor inside of the claw, forbidden by the rules, so its every hit injuries Sonnie’s robot and hurts her. But in the end, Sonnie wins the combat and after it she becomes the victim of the mafia leader’s girlfriend. After Sonnie’s death, it becomes clear that she is also a bio-morpheus, controlled remotely by another operator, maybe more authentic Sonnie. And here the question arises: where the real Sonnie is? Where do her additional artificial edges end which in a certain way also belong to her mind because she feels pain for them? The researchers of the personality phenomenon believe that this is a very complex phenomenon and for its definition, it is necessary to conduct the test constantly. So, the killing of the bio-morpheus of Sonnie’s mediator was that very testing otherwise we would never find that this is not real Sonnie. So all this criminal story was the illustration for this testing on the personality presence. But is it possible to determine the presence of a personality in a being by not so traumatic method? Where is that test which would determine for sure that this is a real personality and not the imitation / the mediator?

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

The next episode “Three Robots” despite a heedless plot arises a very important problem of subjectivity. After the environmental catastrophe which wiped off humanity but didn’t affect the robots who survived the Technological Singularity and now they develop themselves, three of them appear in the fast food restaurant with the remains of the stoned remains of fast food and try to figure out what the hell it is. From the robot’s view, energy extraction by grinding hamburger into a paste with its subsequent digestion in the acidic environment of the stomach is a complete absurdity. What is the need in all this if they can feed on the atomic battery, which charge doesn’t decrease throughout the dozens of years? Such a question causes a skeptical smile: “What a primitive, retarded and miserable creatures these people were!” To put this question, one has to be a non-biological creature. But the trick is that we don’t know how a non-biological creature thinks because we have never met it. We don’t know whether a non-biological creature tends to smile skeptically that is the human’s feature. In fact, the depicted robots in the episode are simply a projection of human mind for the creation of the era of Technological Singularity. They behave like the tourists in the theme park: take pics and selfies all the time, try on the life of extinct people. But there is no certainty that robots would be interested in people or would express any ideas concerning us. This is especially true for the people themselves so we tend to imagine the robots this way.

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

The sixth novel “When The Yogurt Took Over” is openly satiric and in many respects similar to the episode “Three robots”. According to the plot, Technological Singularity exploded not in the world of artificial intelligence but in the humid environment of sour-milk bacteria. First, the intelligent yogurt gives advice to people but when he sees that they don’t take him seriously, he gathers his supporters among people, builds huge spacecraft and leaves the Earth forever. Those who mocked at yogurt and the sect of his supporters are deeply worried: “Will he notice us now? Does he need us?” Basically, this is a very interesting question: are humans interesting for non-humans? When we ask ourselves whether they want to conquer us, in this question there is always a hidden fear: what if they don’t? What if they don’t need us at all?

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

The episode “Beyond the Aquila Rift” is dedicated to the phenomenon which had been brought in the XVI century by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It is about perception and apperception and the fundamental difference between them. The episode tells about the spacecraft “Blue Goose” which due to an error comes out of the hyperspace in the place it doesn’t intend to but much further. This takes many hundreds of years. The crew – Thom, Suzy, and Ray – meet with other Earth inhabitants who are trapped there because of the same mistake. Incidentally, there is an old girlfriend of Ray whom he saw “not so long ago” on the Earth: she is a sexy and exquisite blonde who is ready to spend all her time with him. But Suzy suspects something and attacks her. Ray asks the blonde to explain what is happening and she answers: you won’t like the answer, all that you see is only a beautiful picture which you are shown on the basis of pleasant memories. Ray insists and sees himself a miserable old man in a terrible and revolting world and a sexy blonde turns out to be a nightmarish creepy monster. And this is the question: what is better to see and what is the answer? The perception of reality is a mental process that lies in the human’s reflection of objects and phenomena, in the complex of all their qualities with direct action on the senses. But a pure perception happens rarely and is unlikely at all: because a slight deterioration of sight and a biased attitude makes the things that we see different from what other people see. Recollect at least a warning note on the rear-view mirror: “The things that you see in reality are closer than they are.” That’s why Leibniz suggested the term apperception or the dependence of perception on previous experience of a being. “Perception depends not only on the object but also on the subject, on the needs, interests, believes, concepts, etc.” Leibniz wrote. “Direct impressions of the object activate certain traces of past experiences; they are included in the previous experience, so that perception becomes faster, more selective and meaningful.” But in the XXI century, the Austrian Thomas Metzinger, who has been already mentioned here, added that the apperception is also influenced by the state of our ego-tunnel, that is a set of signals from sensory organs, which is limited and in which our mind moves like the metro train that can be influenced by multiple things: by the use of drugs, for example. Metzinger calls the changes of such personal settings the design of ego-tunnel. “Why do we see and hear only in this limited diapason?” he asks. “Why don’t we see the heat waves which are registered by the heat detectors or hear the ultrasound? And what will the reality look like for us then? Will it be more real than that other people see?” But all these questions are not so disturbing as that the authors of the episode “Beyond the Aquila Rift” put before us: “What if our ego-tunnel will react without our permission for the sake of us because we could not suffer the true reality?”

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

Two episodes of the series are this way or another connected with Russia. The author of the first one, the Russian Vitaliy Sushko has already become the star in his homeland: you bet – his animated film “Blindspot” was taken to Netflix and now it became the matter of talks around the world. And there is something to talk about. According to the plot, two cyborgs try to rob the convoy with ICs at the moment when it will come into the tunnel and become inaccessible for the system of guards and police. After the fight, two of three cyborgs die and the last one is very dispirited by the course of events. But suddenly he sees the smiling holograms of his friends who say him that in the digital world there is no death: before the attack, they saved their copies on the remote server and now they will restore their injured bodies and become whom they were. And here the real problem appears, which is called “Mind-body problem” or the Dichotomy of mind and body among the philosophers. It was first agreed by René Descartes: “I think hence I exist”. Does the problem lie in that we can apart the mind from the body? If yes, then the mind is immaterial so it is unlikely to be saved on the remote server. And if the mind is only the part of our body, then the human is just a mechanism which can be completely reproduced at a certain level of technology development. Indeed, if we can now create an artificial heart, then why not create an artificial brain in the near future? Why not change own brain for a better one, more developed and intelligent with the knowledge of languages and a great sense of tact? But will be you individuality preserved at the same time? Will the dead cyborgs be the same as they used to be?

Love, Death & Robots: філософія свідомості для чайників

Shot from the series Love, Death & Robots

The action of the animated episode by István Zorkóczy takes place in Russian Siberia, where the Red Army detachment heroically fights zombie mutants. For the genre, this work can be classified as postmodern pastiche: that is, an imitation collage from the classical works of the past, which looks like a parody but is actually fascinated by the originals. Is it really true? I am afraid that the Hungarian István Zorkóczy has no sentiments towards the Red Army which occupied his country in 1956. However, the meaning of this episode seems to be that the Red Army under the influence of skillful Russian propaganda sees their enemies maximally dehumanized, like nightmarish zombie mutants, which can’t be spared at all. The same thing, obviously, occurred in the distant past when Siberia was not yet a member of Russia, and it had to be conquered from indigenous inhabitants. For self-justification of their aggression, the Russians called them cruel cavemen from whom they have to clean the land, so Zorkóczy’s cartoon has anti-colonial grounds.

Generally speaking, the appearance of this series on Netflix is a weighty phenomenon for the contemporary culture since in the world which has become so complicated it’s important to understand what is happening and where it will finally lead us.

Oleh Shynkarenko

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