This summer, I took some time partially off from grad school to plan experiments and write a couple papers. Most importantly, I got a change of scenery, and won't be on campus for about two months.
In my temporary summer of pseudo-leisure I have decided to come back to writing, but first I started and immediately finished watching the first season of Orphan Black. At the end of season one (yes, spoilers ahead) the set of clones decode a genetic marker and find an IP notice. Suddenly, this cohort of characters that I agonized with for ten episodes were the physical property of a corporation that was also trying to subdue them.
Worrying about the orphans' plight is a nice substitute for the harder questions about the rights actually entitled to sentient and self-aware beings. We have a terrible dilemma when addressing traits that fall along a spectrum. Crows can solve problems, monkeys examine implants on their heads when presented with a mirror, and we have all kinds of dilemmas about what will constitute an artificial intelligence. I don't have any real doubt that eventually we'll deal with human clones, or computer based intelligence. At what point is ownership of such an entity "inhumane"? What if it's a copy of your consciousness? (Check out Mindscan while you're thinking about your alternate selves.)
Interesting decisions have already been made, too. RadioLab produced a show about how there is already a court-case ruling that mutants are not humans to allow cheaper imports on X-men toys. GMO is hotly contested...do we treat glowing fish and bananas that vaccinate kids the same as higher producing crops or German Shepherds that are bred to minimize hip defects? How about in vitro fertilization? Or the use of a third party egg to eliminate mitochondrial disorders that would be passed on to offspring? Where do all these things fall on the spectrum of ethics, technology and wonder?
I read Agent to the Stars a couple years ago and loved the idea of a Hollywood agent becoming responsible for the introduction of an alien race to humanity. As he stated, there have been too many movies with aliens as bad guys, they have a terrible image. I wonder if the same could be done for AI or clones? Is Orphan Black trying to soothe our fears of Storm Troopers, or Oblivion-esque maintanence duplicates? Maybe our shared outrage with Sarah and Cosima when their decoding interface announces their lack of legal standing is an early step towards our future empathy with clones?