We are quick to apply the “Turing Test” from computer science — that something could be created so brilliantly complex that, without a strand of DNA, it could pass for human. We jump to the conclusion that it’s plausible to attribute conscious to electronic things with simulated skin— the sci-fi trope that such a thing could emulate sexuality, perhaps even the full range of human feelings.
Many find this a frightening prospect…which is why it works so well as a plot device.
But matter does not become conscious on account of its complexity. We don’t consider a cuckoo clock with intricate gears to be more conscious than a sundial. Moving from mechanical to electronic changes nothing. We don’t think our digital clock knows what time it is, even if the clock is infinitely more complicated than, say, a phone charger. No amount of complexity, no skill at mimicking make a conscious being.
A perfectly decent person who is an actor can convincingly play a vicious murderer.
This sci-fi trope can be unnerving because it seems there’s nothing that separates a being that exists and feels from one that only simulates experiencing.
It’s perhaps another indicator of the fragility of our sense of our humanity that can feel so tenuous in this tremulous time.