Thursday, July 9, 2015

Of Robots and Clones

I have been pondering lately the existence of and the place of robots and clones in my TU. Both are fairly common features of sci-fi.There are two ways to approach these subjects: the practical and the philosophical.  I will deal with both questions for both types, robots first. 
A masterpiece of engineering

Robots exist in my TU. That's easy. I can consult Book 8, or Research Station Gamma (Adv 2) or JTAS 2-4 for procedures on building robots, all of which help to inform the question of the practicality of robots. The design rules make it plain what robots do in a Traveller setting. Starting with non-mobile robotic equipment which are used in manufacturing through humaniform mobile units with near-human intelligence, robots perform labor. That's their practical function. Maybe the labor is more efficiently done by a robot, or the labor is hazardous to humans, or is menial and so disagreeable for humans to perform.

There have to be limits to this for the game's sake, of course. It may be more efficient and less hazardous to have an all-robot army or Scout Service, but that moves the focus of the game off of the human PCs. No good. So, robots will be employed in many of the circumstances I've mentioned, but not in all cases. Humans sometimes want to fight, and to explore, and to build by themselves, not through their surrogates. 

To explain the philosophical question of robots, I have to make a side-trip into defining some terms. The Robots article in JTAS #2 offers some very useful definitions, which I think are acceptable to share

Being: a being is self-aware, self-powered and can be distinguished from others of its kind (an individual). A Being can sense its environment and react to it.

Robot: a robot is a mechanically based artificial being.

Cyborg: a cyborg is a natural biological being which has had significant portions of its body replaced by mechanical parts with superior function to the original. Mechanical parts which simply replace natural functions are called prostheses, and are usually limited in number.

So, a robot is a Being, but it is not alive: it does not grow by natural internal processes, it does not convert external matter into internal energy, it is not subject to disease, it has no self-repair processes. For my money, then, robots are, whatever their programmed level of intelligence, property. On some worlds within my TU, such as the Corellian League and the UPA, humans grant high-intelligence robots some citizenship rights, but for the majority of the states, robots are non-citizen property.

Planets with Law Levels of 6+ restrict or forbid the importation of robots of higher than local Tech Level.  Planets with population code 4 or less do not manufacture robots, regardless of Tech Level, but may import them. The Church has little to say about robots, beyond acknowledging that they are not alive.

As non-living beings, there are few philosophical issues with robots - they can't be offended against, and can be sent into harm's way without moral qualm. People may develop an affinity for a robot, if it has the emotion simulation program. Humans may treat robots as persons or as objects as they see fit. 

Now, on to the more complicated matter of clones. The robots article in JTAS 2 defines a clone as "a biological copy of an existing being. A clone is a duplicate produced through the use of technology . . ."

I've already discussed uplifted animals in my post about non-humans and the Church. Clones, however, are a different case. I have some moral qualms about human cloning, and some practical issues as well, both in the real world and in my TU.

First the practical. In the Traveller Book, cloning gets a one-word mention on the Tech Level charts at TL 13. That works for me. For most of my TU, clones simply don't exist.   Where they do exist, what do they do? A clone has only the capabilities of a normal human, which we can easily make even here at TL 8, so why go to the bother?

The JTAS article mentions that clones are used as a sort of life insurance - the original gets old or injured, so the mind is copied over into the new body. This, to me, does not work. I do not accept the brain download/copy trope as being possible. Consider also the possibility of errors in the transfer as a major practical problem - getting a new body isn't much fun if my speech center doesn't transfer over, or if my new body has epilepsy. Even if I did accept flawless memory transfer, that still overlooks the problem of muscle memory - it's not my brain that can perform gymnastics, it's my arms and body. 

As a practical issue then, in my TU body-swapping does not happen. So what else would a clone be for?  The most likely alternative, which has been (I think) suggested in real life is growing a collection of replacement parts. My liver gets ruined by drink?  Surgically transplant a fresh new liver from the clone.

And now we get into the philosophical question of clones. To create a living, thinking person for the purpose of over-writing their existence or disassembling them bit by bit for the benefit of another borders on the diabolical. The clone would have to be kept healthy, probably by keeping it in a medical institution: th clone could not have a life of its own so as to be available for the original's use. This is slavery, and in my TU, the Church condemns this practice utterly. Clones who are created to serve some purpose of their creators instead of growing and living their own lives as Persons are also slaves.

For example, in the Star Wars prequels, the Republic created an army of clones. This too is diabolical. They created millions of living Beings solely for the purpose of being blaster fodder. The clones have no option to decline military service, or even question it (watch their about face on Order 66). The Republic bred a slave army. Another reason to dislike the Star Wars prequels.

PCs may encounter a clone by a patron asking them to find a clone who has gotten lost or run away, or perhaps the clone, or a clone-rights group is the patron, asking for the PCs help to plan an escape.

How would normal humans relate to clones? Clones made from humans will be human in most respects, but may not be fully human - they may not possess a soul. To explain the Orthodox understanding of the human soul would take too long here, read this if you want an introduction, but a clone differs from a human at least in that part of our human nature is to be born via natural processes, and of two parents who are distinct from us. A clone has only one 'parent' who is physically identical, and clones are beings created by artificial processes. Wiser and more pious hearts than mine can take up the task of discerning whether a clone has a soul or not.

The Church in the real world has not, to my knowledge, made any dogmatic statement on cloning of humans; but in less formal terms, the further away from natural reproduction you get, the more reluctant the Church is to approve of it. Mankind, which alone in nature bears the Image of God is the pinnacle of creation, and the Church is reluctant to tamper with the design.

Until the question of a clone's soul is answered the Church in my TU counsels its people to treat clones as if they are fully human, for it is better to err in favor of love. As such, the Church will use its influence wherever possible to discourage cloning of humans, and for granting clones all the protections of the law and the Church that normal humans have.

In summary, robots are common, and perform labor for human owners. Clones are rare, often enslaved de facto if not de jure, and both take a back seat in a narrative sense to humans. Oh, and slavery likely still exists even in the Far Future, but that's a post for another day. 

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