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Go Back   The Trek BBS > Star Trek TV Series > The Next Generation

The Next Generation All Good Things come to an end...but not here.

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Old May 28 2013, 07:53 PM   #1
Zameaze
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Morality and the Holodeck

Is it moral for a person to create sentient holodeck beings, and then turn them off at his convenience?

In one episode, Moriarty, a holodeck character, devises a plan to escape into the real world, rather than be trapped in a holodeck program where he could be switched off at a whim.

In another episode, there was the poignant moment when a holodeck character asked Picard, "When you're gone, will this world still exist? Will my wife and kids still be waiting for me at home?"

What do you think on the subject of the morality of creating holodeck beings?
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Old May 28 2013, 08:01 PM   #2
Pavonis
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

What's the legal status of artificial intelligences in the Federation? Are the holodeck characters considered true AI, or just really good simulations of people? Just because a holodeck character seems real doesn't mean they are - they're supposed to seem real! It's probably a question that still is under debate in the 2370s and 2380s, with the expansion of holographic rights and the ease of AI creation.
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Old May 28 2013, 08:04 PM   #3
Third Nacelle
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

I would need to know a lot more about how holodeck programs work. Is every character sentient? If I discontinue Moriarty today, and resume next week, is it the same Moriarty? When that holodeck character spoke of his wife and kids did they actually exist, or was it just in his mind?

I don't really think individual holodeck characters are sentient. They are just photons and forcefields. The computer running them, however, probably has some degree of sentience. In a way, you could say that all the various characters in the holodeck are different personae of the computer. I have a different personality at work than I have out at a bar with my friends, but neither of those personalities is a sentient individual by itself... they're both part of me.

I don't think it's immoral to start and end holodeck characters, but I think it might be worth looking into the morality of enslaving a computer that's sophisticated enough to create them.
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Old May 28 2013, 08:49 PM   #4
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

Generally, I'd say that when in fact you've granted sentience unto a holodeck character as happened with The Doctor, James Moriarty & Virgina Batholomew, then they should inherit certain rights of a being, since it appears more & more in their era that the technology is capable of producing nearly indistinguishable sentience from our own or from other AI, like Soong androids

In these cases, forcibly shutting them down is a denial of life & liberty. Frankly, at the very least, there should be some matrix in which they can run without interruption, much like they bestowed upon Moriarty at the end of his story
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Old May 29 2013, 02:26 AM   #5
Distorted Humor
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

Its most likely more a ad-hoc type situation at first, later followed up by the law (in the in universe) and the writers (in real life) realizing that the hologram might likely had some rights and the matrix was a good way to solve a tricky problem.
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Old May 29 2013, 02:50 AM   #6
JirinPanthosa
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

If you can prove they are sentient, it is immoral.

(Looks around for Guy Gardener)

Professor Moriarty is a special case because he was threatening the safety of the rest of the ship in both cases. It was necessary to satiate him to protect the 'needs of the many'.

The majority of holodeck characters are in no way sentient.
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Old May 29 2013, 12:12 PM   #7
Sandoval
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

Zameaze wrote: View Post
In another episode, there was the poignant moment when a holodeck character asked Picard, "When you're gone, will this world still exist? Will my wife and kids still be waiting for me at home?"
Poignant perhaps, but still a puppet reading words from a script.

Computer generated creations have the potential to illicit an emotional response, whether they be ones from Up! or Wall-E or near-perfect holodeck creations, but all are still computer-controlled automatons acting according to a programmer's instructions.

Just a more sophisticated example of people cooing over Furbies because they 'behave' in a manner that appeals to us, but they're essentially no different to toasters or microwaves.

Switch them off and they feel nothing, because they never felt anything to begin with.
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Old May 29 2013, 12:23 PM   #8
Timo
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

The same goes for Picard himself, of course - a mere flesh puppet following a preprogrammed routine.

In these cases, forcibly shutting them down is a denial of life & liberty.
Is it, really? A hologram is in such a superior position compared with a humanoid to start with: an immortal being that can experience time at a pace of its own choosing, exist in a million copies if need be, modify and reset its existence in innumerable ways... Being slave to a humanoid user's whims sounds like an utterly insignificant inconvenience in comparison.

Also, turning off a holocharacter doesn't mean that the character has to sulk in a dark closet or something. The character experiences no passage of time, unless it is Moriarty (and nobody has figured out how that happened). It isn't "missing out" on anything (since it isn't involved in anything except what goes on inside the holodeck int he first place); its life isn't shortened; etc.

Giving human rights to a hologram would in most respects mean stripping it of 90% of its birthright and forcing it to exist in a cage of insane limitations and irrelevant regulations. The UFP isn't that monomaniac about rights anyway: Vulcans have the right to murder each other for tradition's sake but humans don't, say. Surely rights would be tailored for the wearer in this case, too?

Timo Saloniemi
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Old May 29 2013, 01:52 PM   #9
Forbin
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

I have lots of trouble believing in (suspending disbelief in?) sentient holograms. The Doctor, for example, is basically a program running on Voyager's computer. Is Voyager's computer sentient? If not, then how can one of its subroutines be sentient? If Voyager's computer IS sentient, then the ship itself must be sentient, and should be regarded as a "person" with civil rights. Is the ship then a slave, being ordered around by its command crew/slavemasters, with no self-determination of its own?

It's like worrying about the characters in a game when you turn it off.
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Old May 29 2013, 02:03 PM   #10
Timo
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

The Doctor, for example, is basically a program running on Voyager's computer. Is Voyager's computer sentient? If not, then how can one of its subroutines be sentient?
How would this follow? I live in a city, and believing that the city is sentient is not a requirement for believing that I am. I live in a body, and there's no requirement for believing my thighbone is sentient. And so forth.

Also, my computer can run a combat AI that outwits me in a strategy game. That doesn't mean my word processor would be capable of fighting me, or that the computer at large would have AI.

Sentience isn't all that special. It's just what some things do for a living, while others manage quite nicely without. Nor is there any obvious reason to associate "civil rights" with sentience, and indeed today we do not do so. Instead, we give "civil rights" to a single species, including its lamentably nonsentient members.

Also, "being ordered around" is the general and default state of affairs, and has virtually no bearing on the metaphysical issue of self-determination.

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Old May 29 2013, 02:47 PM   #11
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Timo wrote: View Post
The Doctor, for example, is basically a program running on Voyager's computer. Is Voyager's computer sentient? If not, then how can one of its subroutines be sentient?
How would this follow? I live in a city, and believing that the city is sentient is not a requirement for believing that I am. I live in a body, and there's no requirement for believing my thighbone is sentient. And so forth.
With respect, for a seemingly intelligent poster that is an absolutely shocking analogy.
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Old May 29 2013, 02:55 PM   #12
Timo
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

It's actually two analogies. The latter features the sentience as part of one biological body, which is very close to the situation of it being part of one optronic computer. But even that is being too kind to the original nonsense, as there's no inherent element of "being part of one" in this whole sentience business. Sentience isn't something that contaminates an entity if existing in one corner of it, any more than rotational movement would somehow emanate from the wheel of a car and contaminate its trunk. It's an isolated function that may serve a larger whole, is all.

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Old May 29 2013, 05:31 PM   #13
BennieGamali
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

In a lot of sci-fi the question of "sentience" is what the story builds on (robot stuff, like Asimov's books). It's a very, very interesting subject in my opinion. They use it a lot when they're making Data episodes. There is even an episode where they debate whether or not Data is sentient. I don't remember what made them decide he was.. But I gues the same rules should apply to holographic people. If you want to know what the feds think of it, watch that episode.

Edit: This being said, I don't beleive my computer is sentient or that software can become sentien. But this is fiction, fantasy, stories. They don't have to be realistic. It's the discussion of an idea. In ST the Doctor IS sentient. So it would be morally wrong to treat him like a computer.
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Old May 29 2013, 07:45 PM   #14
Zameaze
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

JirinPanthosa wrote: View Post
If you can prove they are sentient, it is immoral.
But if we accept that one holodeck character (Professor Moriarty) is sentient, doesn't the burden or proof now shift to those who maintain that holodeck characters are not sentient? What if we conclude that they are not sentient and we are wrong? Then the character that worried about what would happen to him and his family when the program ended had good reason to worry.
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Old May 29 2013, 08:07 PM   #15
Timo
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Re: Morality and the Holodeck

The expression "holodeck characters" makes it sound as if these are a monobloc lifeform of some sort. But the holodeck seems to utilize a large number of different techniques to create its pleasing illusions; there isn't just one type of "holodeck character", and probably not just two, either. There's variety, and it's highly technical.

So you have to get through a lot of technicalities first before even starting to address the morality of the issue. Or then you have to declare the technicalities irrelevant and go for the big picture. Which is what happens today with animal rights: some people make a difference between the rights of a whale and a beetle, while others realize the utter futility of actually establishing the difference between these creatures and decide that all animals need equal rights. Which is futile as well, because obviously bacteria or even gnats can't be given the same rights as whales or cows.

The silly thing about this all is that UFP already deals with diversity. It has somehow tackled the transition from Earth laws (which only apply to Homo sapiens), Vulcan laws and so forth to interstellar law that covers species not created equal. What truly new could there possibly be in dealing with artificial lifeforms? Why isn't the legislation rife with precedent? Why the need for "Measure of a Man", "Author, Author" and the like?

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