(Cross-posted from Commonplace)
Within the universe there exists fierce cold things, which I have given the name "machines" to. Their behavior frightens me, especially when it imitates human behavior so well that I get the uncomfortable sense that these things are trying to pass themselves off as humans but are not. I call them "androids," which is my own way of using that word. By "android" I do not mean a sincere attempt to create in the laboratory a human being... I mean a thing somehow generated to deceive us in a cruel way, to cause us to think it to be one of ourselves. Made in a laboratory--that aspect is not meaningful to me; the entire universe is one vast laboratory, and out of it come sly and cruel entities that smile as they reach out to shake hands. But their handshake is the grip of death, and their smile has the coldness of the grave.
"Man" or "human being" are terms that we must understand correctly and apply, but they apply not to origin or to any ontology but to a way of being in the world; if a mechanical construct halts in its customary operation to lend you assistance, then you will posit to it, gratefully, a humanity that no analysis of its transistors and relay systems can elucidate. A scientist, tracing the wiring circuits of that machine to locate its humanness, would be like our own earnest scientists who tried in vain to locate the soul in man, and, not being able to find a specific organ located at a specific spot, opted to decline to admit that we have souls. As soul is to man, man is to machine: It is the added dimension in terms of functional hierarchy. As one of us acts godlike (gives his cloak to a stranger), a machine acts human when it pauses in its programmed cycle to defer to it by reason of a decision.
My theme for years in my writing has been, "The devil has a metal face." Perhaps this should be amended now. What I glimpsed and then wrote about was in fact not a face; it was a mask over a face. And the true face is the reverse of the mask. Of course it would be. You do not place fierce, cold metal over fierce, cold metal. You place it over soft flesh, as the harmless moth adorns itself artfully to terrorize others with ocelli.
Probably everything in the universe serves a good end--I mean, serves the universe's goals. But intrinsic portions or subsystems can be takers of life. We must deal with them as such, without reference to their role in the total structure.