2004 : WHAT'S YOUR LAW?

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Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT; Internet Culture Researcher; Author, Alone Together
Turkle's Law of Evocative Objects

Every technology has an instrumental side, what the technology does for us and a subjective side, what the technology does to us, to our ways of seeing the world, including to our ways of thinking about ourselves.

So the Internet both facilitates communication and changes our sense of identity, privacy, and sexual possibility; gene sequencing both gives us new ways of diagnosing and treating disease and new ways of thinking about human nature and human history. On an instrumental level, interactive, "sociable" robotics offers new opportunities for education, childcare, and eldercare; on a subjective level, it offers new challenges to our view of human nature, and to our moral sense of what kinds of creatures are deserving of relationship.

Turkle's Law of Human Vulnerability to An Active Gaze

If a creature, computational or biological, makes eye contact with a person, tracks her gaze, and gestures with interest toward her, that person will experience the creature as sentient, even capable of understanding her inner state.

The human has evolved to anthropomorphize. We are on the brink of creating machines so "sociable" in appearance that they will push our evolutionary buttons to treat them as kindred. Yet they will not have shared our human biological and social experience and will thus not have our means of access to the meanings of moments in the human life cycle: a child's first step, an adolescent's strut, a parent's pride. Yet we will not be in complete control of our feelings for these objects because our feelings will not be based on what they know or understand, but on what we "experience" them as knowing, a very different thing.

We don't know what people and animals are "really" thinking but grant them a "species pass" in which we make assumptions about their inner states. It is a social and moral contract. Contemporary technology has put us close to the moment when we shall be called upon to make this kind of contract (or some other kind) about creatures of our own devising. We are called upon to answer the question: What kinds of relationships are appropriate to have with a machine? Our answer will not only affect the instrumental roles that we allow technology to play but the way technology will co-create the human psyche and sensibility of the future.