ANDROIDS ALL AROUND US
our place among the living, and to better understand both.And surely the potential medical benefits to humanity cannot be dismissed.
Nevertheless, when considering the creation of artificial beings, we must also consider the ambiguities and dark notes inherent in the quest.Whenever such creatures seem to cross the boundary between the living and the dead, the result is awesomely frightening, as shown in a tale from Roman times told in GerardWalter’s biography of Julius Caesar. Supposedly, at the assassinated Caesar’s funeral, the crowd sud- denly experienced “a vision of horror [and] brutality” when
From the bier Caesar arose and began to turn around slowly, exposing to their terrified gaze his dreadfully livid face and his twenty-three wounds still bleeding. It was a wax model which [Marc] Antony had ordered in the greatest secrecy and which automatically moved by means of a special mechanism hidden behind the bed.
In a similar vein, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), when Victor Frankenstein sees the first stirrings of the being he has created from dead body parts, he is shocked and horrified and spontaneously re- jects his creation.
These visceral reactions represent the deepest fears that artificial beings might engender. But not every such creature represents a di- rect challenge to death or to God’s law—and if that challenge is ab- sent, so is supernatural fear.When Sigmund Freud addressed this sense of dread in his essay “The ‘Uncanny,’” he did not relate it to religious guilt about blasphemy, but to knowledge of our own mortality. We feel uncanny, he says, when a deep emotion that has been repressed is made to recur. Our feelings about death are like that. Children, Freud notes,unambiguously want their inanimate dolls to come to life.Chil- dren, however—at least very young ones—have no knowledge of death. Adults do, and as Freud says, because of the “strength of our initial emotional reaction to death and the insufficiency of our scien- tific knowledge about it . . . almost all of us still think as savages do on this topic.” And so a special eeriness arises in the presence of a dead body or when we wonder whether something seemingly dead, such as an automaton, is actually alive.
If Freud is correct, then research on artificial beings can only reduce the sense of uncanniness as it explores the borderline between