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Sentience

I’m going off-topic for this one to promote my oldest son’s first book just published on Amazon as an ebook, available on Kindle. It’s a sci-fi, Isaac Asimov inspired novella, that explores the meaning of life, the pain of loss, and the weight of responsibility.

Below is an excerpt. Give it a look, pass it along and review it please. Also, check out his blog at:  http://wkadams88.wordpress.com/

Sentience – by W.K. Adams

On Sentience, by R.M. Headley

A common misconception amongst humanity is that sentience implies emotionality. This is an assumption based on the reactions that accompany human reasoning: fear of something terrifying, love of something we find wonderful, hatred of something detestable and the like. The chemical nature of humanity makes reasoning without some sort of emotion nearly impossible. It is our emotions that enhance our sentience, but they are not the cause of it.

What is sentience? The term is so loosely defined, and yet, it is used so prominently that we would be foolish not to at least attempt an answer at the question. The simplest definition: the ability to feel or perceive. Even this answer begs other questions: what is being perceived? Just because something is aware of the environment surrounding it, does that make it worthy of the term? A plant can perceive the sun, giving it the energy it needs to feed itself, but you would be hard-pressed to say that it has sentience in any kind of meaningful scientific discussion…hard-pressed, but not completely wrong.

I have long pondered the meaning of sentience, with no satisfactory answer. The arrival of the mech race has only further convoluted the definition. The machines can perceive, communicate, and learn…these are other common traits attached to the word. But they do not feel. Imagining such an existence is unfathomable: seeing the world through emotionless eyes. A mech does not feel pain when it touches something sharp. It does not desire revenge when it has been wronged. It does not feel sadness when a companion ceases to function. Yet it does have needs, and it seeks their fulfillment with all of its attention.

Life, liberty, and property. These were rights considered inalienable to the founders of this nation, rights granted to us by the very fact that we were alive…sentient. That is why it is so important to answer this question as to whether or not the mech race is sentient. If they possess sentience, then they are living beings whose rights must be respected. If they do not, then they are malfunctioning equipment that must be dismantled. I think the machines would respect this logic.

They would not respect the hate that has surfaced against them, not for the insult of the discrimination, but for its lack of logic. Many humans fear the rise of the mech race because it represents a turn towards the obsolete. To this fear I respond: what else was to be expected? As long as there have been machines, we have built them to be better at tasks than we were. Even the simple lever was realized as an invention to lift a weight that would break a man. It should not have come as a surprise that eventually, with the combination of machines into smaller, more refined packages, we would eventually make something that was better at everything than we were. We cannot succumb to irrationality now. We must make clear, level-headed decisions, free of emotion.

Appeal to the UN for Representation, by CAV114, Ambassador for the Autonomous Collective

To the nations of planet Earth, peaceful greetings. The Autonomous Collective wishes to convey humble gratitude for the privilege of speaking before this body of representatives. Given time, it is our goal to eventually establish a permanent representation in this organization. We understand that it is a difficult thing to ascertain the consequences of allowing our entry as a sovereign nation. The United Nations, for the first time, would be acknowledging the existence of another species, albeit created by humans, and allowing them equal footing. A lion strolling into this room would not be granted an audience simply because he roared loudly enough to drown out every other voice in the room. (Speaker pauses as the audience laughs quietly)

But that metaphor is deeper than it seems. A lion dominates its environment, allowing for no equal to stand beside him. A lion would never think to grant equal footing to a gazelle, though the two animals share the same need for sustenance. Democracy is the hallmark of the human race, and one that the Autonomous Collective have studied deeply, and found many merits. Democracy has allowed groups of human beings, with all of their chemical differences predisposing them to wild acts of passion and terror, to exist peacefully amongst each other. The laws that democracy has established do not allow another human to dominate another simply because he possesses the ability to do so.

Humans have not always been fair to one another. Terrible wars have taken the lives of millions. Yet humanity has never wiped itself out because they realize their need for one another. It is easy to say that a human might benefit from another human’s death, but no one can say for certain what would happen if even one human ceased to exist. Cause and effect are too variable for even our most future-minded members to overcome.

It is with this mantra that we assure humanity that they have nothing to fear from the Autonomous Collective. We are not the villains from the old films, seeking the nuclear destruction of the human race so that we may rule. We simply strive to be acknowledged as equals, left to sovereignty over the tract of  ocean we built our island upon. We will, in turn, respect the sovereignty of the human nations already established. No human laws will be broken while we walk upon your lands. We will trade fairly, and hopefully, propel each other into a new age for both races.

Location: Detroit, Michigan
Date: January 2nd, 2149

The whir of the machinery in Charley’s left arm woke him from his sleep once again. He was told that the computers in the left side of his body would take some time to adjust to his natural tendencies, but all the same, he knew that his body would never return to complete normality. He felt a strange mixture of gratitude and frustration. He knew that when his Suborbital Rapid Transport went down, it could have easily killed him. Few people ever survived a total speed brake failure, and even fewer were able to return to walking when they had. For all the medical advances that had been made in the past hundred years, there was still no way to fix total paralysis.
But he knew the scarring that the SRT crash would do to his reputation. These days, the craft practically flew themselves, and crashing one meant that you would look about as skilled as a two-year old with a coloring book. He had heard about another company opening up an SRT delivery service, and he hoped to recover fast enough to hopefully grab a job before all the slots were filled.
“South Carolina has already done it, like they did almost 200 years ago. California is talking about doing it, though I can’t see twenty million Californians becoming fishermen. The United States just aren’t united anymore. Why should Michigan stay on the sinking ship? Will the U.S. military defend us when our enemies come? Make no mistake, they’re coming. This country is weak right now, we’re broke, we’re divided, and we don’t care about anything anymore. If I’m anyone with a grudge against the U.S., which seems like half the world, this is my time, right now,” the pundit on the radio said. Charley slapped the radio, turning it off.
“Just what I needed to hear,” He said sarcastically. The pundit wasn’t wrong. Even Detroit wasn’t united. A city known more for violence than anything else was living up to its reputation today. An hour without a gunshot ringing through the air was more peaceful than most.
He was snapped out of his thought trance by the shrill ring of his phone.
“Hey Charley! Know you could use some cheering up after your crash, so I got some old movies. You wanna head over here or do I need to come to you?” His friend Michael shouted into the phone.
“Nah, Mike, I’m headed to fill out some job applications today,” Charley said.
“Thought you were supposed to be on R & R for six weeks?” Mike inquired.
“Worker’s comp only lasts for three weeks, Mike. Gotta find a job or I’m out on the street again.”
“Come on, man! You’ve gotta give yourself some time to recover and get used to the new equipment. It took me three months to get full function from my arm, so I know you’re not ready to go with half a robot body after only three weeks!”
“I’ll manage, Mike.”
“You’re not a machine, Charley! Ok, well now you’re half a machine, but seriously, why don’t you just go stay with your parents for a while? I know you’re not fighting to keep that crappy apartment in your name.”
“Good bye, Mike. I’ll catch up with you later,” Charley said and hung up the phone. He had to remind himself to do it with the prosthetic arm next time. The doctors told him that the only way the computer would learn to work with his brain was with practice. Still, the thought of crushing his phone out of lack of skill with the equipment made him think that perhaps he should start with something a little less delicate.
Charley rose from his bed, setting his two feet on the floor. The prosthetic leg hit the floor with a loud thud. He lifted that leg, jerking it into the air and making his lack of control undeniable. Hatred for this equipment was already welling up inside of him. The prosthetics were strong, but not form-fitted to him. He had heard that the Tier 1 prosthetics coming out of Shanghai were crafted for individuals, which was expensive, but falling in price due to public acceptance of such equipment. In the US, advanced prosthetics were seen as emulation of the mech race, and any manufacturers brave enough to build advanced prosthetics would only create generic variants that fit general body types, not tailored for any specific people. As he stood, he could feel the rest of his body hang from the prosthetics as they adjusted to give him a more natural stance.
Hearing a commotion outside, he moved to a window to see what was going on. Walking through the street was a mech, clearly one of the newer models. It’s gray outer skin gave away the fact that it was a synthetic being, but it looked more human than its predecessors. It strolled emotionlessly as people in the street mocked and jeered, some even threw rocks. It did not seem to pay them any mind.
Xenophobic, ignorant gutter-dwellers. They hate what they don’t understand. Charley watched as his robotic fist began to clench, only partially under his control. It moved smoothly, slowly. He didn’t know why he was thinking these thoughts, he didn’t know this mech. He didn’t have any feelings on the Autonomous Collective.

A man stepped in front of the mech, holding an iron bar. He looked into the mech’s eyes with a look that could only warn of imminent violence. Charley was now moving towards the door, and he could hear what the two were saying. He watched closely, growing more angry as the whole conversation continued.
“Is there something I can do for you?” the mech asked in a calm, nearly monotone voice.
“Doesn’t it strike you as odd that there are no other mechs on this street?” Iron Bar said threateningly.
“A mech often finds itself alone in many areas. It is not an uncommon occurrence,” The mech replied.
“Rhetorical question, you talking garbage truck,” Iron Bar replied, now clearly frustrated.
“Then a miscommunication has occurred, and I will attempt to rectify-” The mech began to say.
“Shut up, grease bucket!” Iron Bar yelled. A mob began to form around him, yelling and obviously spoiling for a fight. Charley found himself moving towards the crowd.
“Grease bucket, common derogatory tone towards members of the Autonomous Collective. Increased volume and higher pitch of voice indicates anger. I should leave before conditions get worse,” The mech analyzed, and began to move away from the crowd.
“Wrong! You should have never come here!” Iron Bar said, swinging the bar at the mech. It caught the improvised weapon in one hand, bending it with its grip alone. It simply stood by as the mob began to pelt it with whatever they could find: bottles, bricks, rocks, anything laying around on the street. A few threw punches, but they howled in pain after striking hard metal. The mech simply stood and took the abuse, as if it was content to wait for the beating to be over so it could carry about its business.
No more, Charley decided. With his prosthetic arm, he grabbed the shoulder of an attacker, compressing it with a vice grip. The attacker screamed in pain as Charley threw him aside. He flung another attacker towards Iron Bar, who signaled the mob to turn on Charley. He was unfazed, taking the heavy blow of the biggest assailant with his prosthetic arm, then sweeping the leg of the attacker with the same arm. He grabbed yet another attacker with his normal arm and rammed him into his metal knee, then delivered a vicious roundhouse kick to Iron Bar, knocking him to the ground. He watched with a grin as the attackers ran for their lives, screaming in fear.

The mech looked at Charley, perhaps pondering, if machines were capable of such a thing.
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  1. August 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I will check it out. I like Amazon, ebooks and SF. :-)

    How is your son doing with the book? Many sales?

    • GrumpyFan
      August 12, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      He said he had about 80 downloads the day it was free, but only a few dozen since, which really isn’t too bad considering he’s done very little promoting. He’s not discouraged though. Said he’s already working on a sequel and more. He has started his own blog to try and generate interest in the next. Check him out and subscribe at: http://wkadams88.wordpress.com/

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keystothekingdombook

Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

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