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FleshFactor: Master/slave dialectic (ms)



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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"
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Recall Hegel's master-slave dialectic? Two men spot each other in
a field of dandelion--they stalk each other. Both are armed.
One will become the master the other the slave. It is the slave who
realizes combat might kill him. The solution he thinks is not
battle but accedence to the other's will. So he becomes the slave
the other the master. He is smart enough to decide that it is
better to let the master think he is in control; to bide his time
as a means of getting control of the situation himself. Eventually,
as Hegel tells it, the slave takes control over the master.

Maybe the machines we are creating are passively unresponsive for
a reason. Maybe they bide their time waiting for the right time to
take control. This is one scenario. There is another.

                                *

The Sumerians left us with wonderful "myths" or as I like to think
of them, the convolutedly remembered stories of their history.

The annunaki's ("astronauts" from another planet) are intent on
saving their planet and its dying atmosphere. They are on earth
mining gold in order to produce gold dust to be released into their
planet's atmosphere. The work is hard, the miners rebel--demand
that their chief engineer create slaves to replace them. After some
discussion the elder gods reluctantly decide to grant the
annunaki's request and Enki-Ea, the chief engineer, is given
permission to create a slave. Not that difficult he tells his
peers--there already is a creature on earth we can use that is
strong and fairly intelligent. He turns the project over to
Ninhursag his chief scientist. She has many failures and creates a
lot of monsters, but finally success. "I have created! My hands
have made it!", Ninhursag cries out in joy. Their method? Semen
mixed with the blood of some gods is put in a flask along with material
from the female animals--the insemination of goddesses proceeds and
eventually succeeds. After nine months 14 goddesses give birth to
the first slaves: "the black-haired ones". Fascinating, if not
amazing, this story (The epic of creation) in the Enuma Elish. Jean
Bottero tells it well in his *Mesopotamia*.

In these ancient times it seems they knew all about how to make
slaves out of flesh and blood. And slaves were, and are, the
dominant creatures on earth, depending, of course, on your
definition of slave. The story of slavery, of bondage, is not far
away from any of us--just check your ancestry. Mine came from the
part of the world where the word "slave" originated, not that many
generations ago.
                                *

To make a slave out of a machine is another kind of beginning. I think you
all see where Tom Sherman is going with his story. You start with a
machine and eventually yearn for it to have human qualities. Soon you
might decide the machine needs a little flesh and blood to make it less
awkward and more comfortable to be around. After all, who wants to clunk
into metal? As Tom put it in describing his yearning for an "ideal"
machine: "Maybe this won't ever be possible with just any machine. Maybe
it will depend on something akin to chemistry."


Laurie McRobert   <laumcr@cam.org>

Montreal



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