Caprica’s mirror

I caught the two-hour series pilot of Caprica on On-Demand a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to comment on it. It’s definitely not a replacement for Galactica, but it clearly wasn’t intended to be. Galactica took an ancient science fiction idea, the question of what makes us human, folded it into religious belief, and created a literal mythos. But Galactica never really asked the question itself – what makes us human? – it showed us the answer as a given. The skin job cylons were presented as human from the start, both the original Earth/Kobol variant and the Colonial variant. The idea that they were still fundamentally machines was never really broached, except as “toaster!” epithets – with the exception of Model One, John. He was the only one to rage at his creators for making him merely human.

spoilers –

Caprica is starting earlier and exploring the question at its root. Zoe creates a copy of herself, not by clever algorithms but by using her social network preferences and internet profile to interpolate her personality. This in itself presumes the human sentience to be a limited one – are we really so easily defined? (The actual size of her avatar’s file is later revealed to be a few hundred gigabytes, if I recall. We are by implication Kings of infinite space bounded by a nut indeed!) Then it is that copy which is downloaded to a Cyborg body – which requires an advanced “neural” processor chip (a weak point in the plot – so I’ll ignore. We can hash that out in comments).

Zoe is Eve for the Cylon race – so the entire Cylon race, which Galactica showed to be equivalent to humanity – is based on a copy of a profile, not a true copy. Zoe Grayson never downloaded her own brain, she created a construct and “trained” it to think it was also Zoe Grayson. Think ahead to how Cylons can be “downloaded” by resurrection ships, and it makes a kind of sense. Maybe Cylons were never really alive!

And maybe the humans of Kobol, and the Colonies, never really were either? Starbuck was also downloaded, despite being fully human, and the Cylons were created from human-cyborg hybrids who are utterly devoid of humanity. Caprica seems to want to try and ask the question what makes us human, but instead seems to be ripping humanity away.

I’ve long been a skeptic of AI and the singularity (which reuires AI as a prereq). I think that the closest we will ever get to AI is going to be an illusion of intelligence, if we approach it the way we have been. I make a distinction between “artificial” intelligence and “synthetic” intelligence – we can define the former as not really intelligent but seeming to be so – even to the extent of fooling you via the Turing Test.

Synthetic intelligence (SI) however is genuine intelligence, but synthetically derived. If naturally occurring life is a natural process, either chemical or biological or some other emergent property (sentient suns? Gaia? etc) of complex systems arising out of nature, then synthetic life is life created from natural life. In other words, synthetic life is intelligently-designed (ID) life, not stochastically-arising life. Galactica seemed to argue that Cylons were SI, but Caprica is undermining it by saying that the humans were AI. AFfter all, who says that AI must be ID?

In fact we do not extend human rights to animals for this very reason – animals are not fully intelligent as we are. Therefore animals are stochastically-arising artificial intelligence. The same might be said the Capricans and Colonials in general – automatons, NPCs.

Subversive stuff 🙂 This is what scifi is supposed to do. Make you think about the big issues and question assumptions. Caprica is doing it with human beings, not blue 7 foot tall aliens, and that makes it more relevant instead of a theoretical.

I like what I am seeing and I think I’m going to be a fan of this show. Lets see.