Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. Over the last two days, Moore has solved the little problem of our broken democracy, and made an argument for (quietly) toppling governments.
Now, following on from our discussion about learning from Athenian democracy, I have just pointed out that his communities based on niche A.I.s will, just as in Athens, effectively be a privileged elite built on slave labour – the slaves being these A.I.s. This prompted the following rather brilliant parable taken from one of Moore’s own comics. See if you get it…
Alan Moore: “The A.I.s, I suppose they will be the slaves. Yeah… eventually we will get into philosophical-moral discussions about robot rights. That will happen, but I hope that animal rights get discussed first. They are already talking about classing the higher primates as ‘persons’, distinct from humans, but ‘persons’ nonetheless. If the higher primates were included, then so would be dolphins, crows, and all of the things we know can recognise themselves in the mirror, can make tools, and can make other tools to modify those tools.
“But yeah, if we ever believe that A.I.s have truly become sentient, we would have to discuss that. Although it would be difficult, because we can’t prove that other humans are sentient. It’s kind of what the Turing Test was saying. Alan Turing was saying that it was the best test for artificial intelligence, but also that it was completely useless.
“If the human examiner can’t tell the difference, then you would have to agree that at least the machine was doing as good a job as appearing to be conscious as the human was. Effectively that’s not really a very good test, and I suspect Turing knew that.
“In my comic, Jack B. Quick, the human examiner is the Mayor’s wife, who is not very bright. Behind the screens, you’ve got the alcoholic town dentist, who is in some sort of alcohol-induced fugue-state, but he’s still a human. Then you’ve got Jack B. Quick’s Robert, which is a wheelbarrow that contains a scarecrow, a tape recorder and some junk, and he’s just playing random phrases from the tape recorder.
“But because the woman doing the test is not very intelligent, and because the dentist is drunk and is just shouting incomprehensible sludge, and the random series of tape recordings happens to get lucky, thus, this scarecrow and junk in a wheelbarrow passes the Turing test and is manufactured all over the world, and then starts to take over.
“Because… people think ‘we kind of think they want to take over, so we dressed them up in uniforms and pushed them out and we formed a checkpoint. I suppose we shouldn’t have done that, but we didn’t want to get on the wrong side of them.’
“Eventually Jack realises, when the whole world is enslaved by these scarecrows-and-junk in a wheelbarrow, that if we just stopped pushing the wheelbarrows… they’ll be helpless!
“And I think I said something profound there.
“If we just stop pushing the wheelbarrows, they’ll be helpless.”
Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. Don’t miss part four’s amazing “Mandrillifesto”, in which Alan Moore addresses the world in the guise of a totalitarian baboon.