Looking for Evil in our Robot Offspring

This week’s episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles introduced some new and interesting twists, although perhaps this won’t be enough to improve its ratings. Potentially most interesting is the idea that some of the machines want peace. Is that who the mysterious shapeshifting robot from the future represents? Does “her daughter” know that her mother, Catherine Weaver, has been replaced by a machine? We also wonder why a shapeshifter would pretend to be a urinal – Isn’t that dangerous?!
At any rate, a wonderful line in the show is when Weaver tells agent Ellison that they are going to hunt down a robot and take it apart piece by piece. She says she doesn’t know what they’ll find, but she doubts they’ll find evil.
This is interesting on a number of levels. If the machines seem evil, and yet are for the most part rational and dispassionate, is evil here viewed in rather Augustinian fashion as the absence of goodness?
On a different line of thought, if we took a human mass murderer and dissected him “piece by piece”, would we “find evil”? The show is forcing us to ask what we mean by “evil” and where one should look for it. The implicit answer seems to be that it is not a substance, but a way of living.
This series continues to explore the parallels between parenting our human, biological offspring and seeking to instill our artificially intelligent creations with goodness and other values. Perhaps we are witnessing hints that these creations/offspring of ours will inevitably rebel, but eventually come to desire peace and reconciliation to their creators/parents.

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  • I’m a fan of the Terminator movies, but have only seen a few episodes of the series (although I’m a fan now). My long-held view is that Skynet, and the terminators, are not evil at all, they are just, as you say, totally dispassionate. Humans can commit dispassionate evil, but robots can’t. They simply carry out their programming. One could argue that since Skynet gained sentience, its actions (starting the war against mankind) could be construed as evil since they are consciously carried out. However, sentience does not automatically imply knowledge of right and wrong, or evil and good. And even if Skynet knows the difference, it has its own morality, one not necessarily applicable to humans. It viewed humans as a threat to its continued existence, as a plague so to speak. If virii and germs had sentience and morals, they may well view our vaccinations and antibiotics as part of an evil war of extermination. However, the doctor who cares for the patient has a totally different moral standard, and dispassionately kills billions of germs in the name of upholding that moral standard.To a large degree, “evil” depends on which side of the fence you’re standing on.

  • That’s a great way to look at it. I’ve been thinking along the same lines. I enjoy stories that deal with the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence and how their weaknesses further magnify our own.www.scifijournalist.com