06 December 2007

Torturing Robots

Interesting piece on boingboing about some robotic toy dinosaur called a Pleo.

I'm impressed with the robot's behavior. It snuggles when you hold it. It falls asleep when you cradle it. It gets frisky when you scratch it under the chin. It's much more lifelike than Sony's discontinued Aibo.

So when I watched this video of a couple of guys from Dvice torturing the Pleo and making it whimper pathetically, I felt uncomfortable, even though I knew it was absolutely ridiculous to feel that way.

I don't think it's ridiculous. It's not rational to be upset by seeing animals or strangers suffering, but most normal people are that way, and we like to think that the people around us are normal like that. This irrational attitude is naturally quite blurry, and I would be less comfortable in the company of those who enjoyed even simulated suffering.

That drives my view of animal rights: I don't care whether any given species does or doesn't feel pain. I don't think it's an important question, and I'm not sure it's even a meaningful question. I care whether the animal appears to feel pain.

If you could miraculously prove to me that cats don't feel pain and that mushrooms do, it wouldn't change in the slightest my attitude towards those who kick cats or pick mushrooms.

Revealing bit of geek history: the ZX81 manual contains the following code example:


10 IF INKEY$ = "" THEN GOTO 10
20 PRINT AT 11.14; "OUCH"
30 IF INKEY$<>"" THEN GOTO 30
40 PRINT AT 11,14; " "
50 GOTO 10

It's introduced as "for fun"


The identical code appears in the ZX Spectrum manual, (with the typo fixed in line 20; the dot should be a comma), but with the introduction "for sadists"

(The program displays OUCH in the middle of the screen while any key is depressed).

Somewhere between 1980 and 1982, they had doubts about how much fun it was to cause simulated pain to an 8-bit computer.

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