THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
Could this requirement coexist with the possibility that they are self- aware and have free will? And if indeed they do possess free will, what is our justification for constraining it?
As in humans, the actions of an artificial being with free will are closely tied to its view of itself, especially as the creature learns where it fits—or doesn’t—into the run of humanity. That story is told in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whose origin is a tale in itself.
On a trip to Switzerland, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her husband-to-be, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whiled away a rainy period in reading ghost stories and talking with their neighbors, including Percy’s fellow poet, Lord Byron.As they pondered philosophical mat- ters such as the origins of life, Byron proposed that each member of the company write a supernatural story. Mary did so, producing a book that has remained in print since its first publication in 1818 (with a revised edition in 1831), has given rise to a host of adaptations, and has produced an iconic image of artificial beings. The creature Mary Shelley imagined had many meanings; misunderstandings and varied interpretations over the long history of the book have given us an even more complex being.
For one thing, “Frankenstein” is not the creature, who is never named, but its maker, Victor Frankenstein. For another, unlike the prevailing image of Boris Karloff clumsily lurching about in the 1931 film Frankenstein, Shelley’s creature is quick and agile. Encountered by Victor in the Alps, the creature moves “with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice. . . .”True, like Karloff, the crea- ture is far from handsome, but that was not its maker’s intention.“His limbs were in proportion,” saysVictor,“and I had selected his features as beautiful.” But perhaps Victor’s methods were imperfect, because the creature has “watery eyes . . . a shriveled complexion, and straight black lips,” and arteries that show beneath yellow skin.
In director James Whale’s 1931 film, a criminal’s brain is substi- tuted for the normal oneVictor wanted for his creation.The result is a