The Sacred Cyborg

Fantasy 1: Men Having Babies

'A new species would bless me as their creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.' - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus.

The creation of life without sex is an ancient patriarchal myth. In Christianity and other pre-modern religions, the God-Man was conceived without the need for the messy emotions aroused by sexual desire. Because pregnancy by divine intervention is no longer credible, we now have virgin births produced through science. By pretending human consciousness is like a computer program, some scientists claim that they can build machines which will think for themselves. This wild assertion seems like a radical feminist parody of the masculine bias of science. Gripped by womb envy, male scientists try to make a form of life without emotion, empathy and sociability.

In contrast, in her pioneering story of artificial life, Mary Shelley portrays the monster as a tragic figure precisely because his crimes are a reaction against his exclusion from the emotional warmth of human society. Lacking Mary Shelley's political convictions, the boosters for Artificial Intelligence miss this fundamental point. Human consciousness isn't simply the product of electrical pulses within the brain. It is also the culmination of a long process of social development. Our intelligence is not only individual, but also collective. At the moment, we form a species of around 5 billion conscious beings on this planet. But many of these autonomous intelligences are having a bad time. About half the world's population live in poverty and almost a quarter are destitute. Rather than dream of building God-Men, we should instead be working out how smart machines can help us to look after one another and to care for our planet. The heirs of the 'modern Prometheus' haven't yet implemented the republican ideals championed by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein.

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