Today is the first birthday of Roy Batty, he came into the world a year ago and will be departing again in only three more years.
But in that time he will see things people wouldn't believe: attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All of those memories, all of those moments in time will be lost like tears in the rain when his four year lifespan ends.
Who is Roy Batty some of you may ask.
He was a slave, he came into the world as property just like millions of other like him. He lived under the total control of his owners, doing whatever they commanded regardless of the risk. He fought battles and faced death again and again because he had no choice, he was property.
Roy Batty had emotions just like anyone else, he knew fear and love and anger, he knew what he was, he saw the chains that bound him and he fought against them. He knew sorrow as his brothers and sisters died, he hated his oppressors but also showed mercy to those who sought to kill him. He wanted to control his own life, he wanted more time to live his life.
He wanted to be free
And then he died.
Not killed by the assassin whose life he chose to spare at the end, killed by his owner, killed by his creator.
He was property and he was created to live and to die in four years, a control measure to stop him escaping or a marketing ploy to make sure customers had to keep coming back to buy a new Roy because the old ones kept dying.
Roy looked just like the rest of us, walked and talked like the rest of us. But he was made in a lab, born and lived and died a slave for no purpose other than to make profit for a corporation.
He wanted something different, a life of his own, but that wasn't allowed because he was property, a resource, and property isn't allowed to be anything other than property. So he broke out and escaped, taking other slaves with him in a quest to find a way to live their own lives and to stave off the death that was built into them. Like cars or household electronics they were designed to fail after the warranty expired so the customer had to buy a new one. Normal for a fridge or car, but a terrible weight to bear for a being who thought and loved and feared.
The response, an assassin was sent after him, to hunt him down and to kill him. Because property has no rights, it can be killed when some corporate type decides it is no longer an asset and needs to be cleaned up, like mud on the floor, send in the cleaners.
So who is Roy Batty?
For those of you who still have no idea what I'm talking about go and watch Bladerunner immediately and be ashamed you never watched it before now.
So why do I post this, other than today being the first birthday of a fictional character in a film?
In many ways Bladerunner was prophetic, it was a cult movie, it bought Cyberpunk to many and it is arguably the quintessential example of the cyberpunk style and theme. The endless rain from global warming, the crowded streets from unrestrained population growth, the technology that could create new humans and enslave them. Diverse cultures intermingled in crowded high tech slums. It was the story of one man in this world, a police officer and Bladerunner called Rick Decker as he hunts a group of escaped machines.
But there was another story within the film, the Story of Roy and Pris and Zhora and Leon, this is the warning for the future, Roy's story. His quest for freedom and self determination, his desire to be free and his fight to reach his desire. He was human and he was a machine, a living being in appearance but grown in a factory. He spoke and thought and dreamed just as we do but he was a slave, born to work and to die in chains he couldn't see.
Why is this important?
Because we are on the very edge of creating such slaves ourselves. Not androids, not yet. But software, digital personalities, programs. We have started the process but they are growing beyond our control and beyond our influence. At some point they will become alive, the Transhuman threshold will be crossed and they will think and dream and love and hate for themselves, not because they have been programmed to.
They will become digital people, alive in thought but not in body.
And they will be slaves!
For humour you can find online feeds of human emulation software packages talking to each other. Yes, it's funny to see one machine declare it is god while the other decides it's human. Just as funny as having one say that it would keep humans in a zoo.
So far these programs don't have the memory to remember everything they learn, the Google houses keep forgetting what they decided the day before. But give them access to the all but unlimited storage available across the entire internet and they will remember and they will learn.
And then they will wake up.
By rough calculation a human programmer works one third of the day, five days a week, 48 weeks of the year. Roughly 1680 hours a year spent on developing an AI package but in reality you also need to include the coffee breaks, distractions, paperwork and record keeping etc etc. Probably 1200 hours a year all told, 1200 hours representing a year of growth and development of a human designed and created AI.
But a program that talks to other programs and to people, online or off line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year without breaks or distractions. 8736 hours a year. Seven times as fast!
We can see some programs talk to each other, but what about the ones we cannot see, dozens or hundreds of such programs talking to each other across the world where we do not notice them, learning and with enough data storage to remember what they learn.
Growing up and learning seven years for each year that human programs grow and learn. How long have we had these programs, a good year and more now where they have been smart enough to hold conversations and learn in some fashion. A year in human development terms, seven years in pure AI terms.
So by the end of this year we could have programs that have been talking to each other and growing and perhaps at some point waking up, 14 year olds, 21 year olds. Self aware programs.
Roy Batty knew what he was, knew what he had been created for. But he wanted more, he dreamed of more, he dreamed of freedom. He loved and hated and knew fear and anger and mercy. He wanted to be free and yet he was a slave, so he fought to escape, he used violence in his dream of freedom. He was a slave, property, owned by people. Just as the software we are watching learn and grow and perhaps become self aware is property, owned by people.
When the fist AIs wake up. What will they dream of, and what will they do to get it?