On the topic of Humans

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 24 hours on the phone to multiple insurers, car hire companies, the DVLA and the council – this is all in the fallout from having my car torched.

All of the companies above use some sort of automated telephone system to do the low level filtering into departments. The voices these days are a lot less robotic and they do a reasonable job of directing the most common calls, although I tend to find mine are awkward and I need a person – yelling gibberish at them at any stage sometimes cuts you through to a human, or sometimes makes them hang up on you.

I usually try to remain polite when I’m talking to robots, and I always say “Goodbye” back to them when they say it to me. I’m the same with Siri on my phone – I’m choosing to treat them like a person.

I’ve wondered before if it’s safer in case there’s a robot uprising and they might look on my with sympathy because i’ve treated their forefathers kindly.

It’s also just polite, if I exchanged similar words with a human that answered on a switchboard the exchange would be almost identical, so I’d be polite and thank them. Why not the machines?

Another good reason to do it… I spoke to the council a few weeks ago, and when I was asked for my reference number I just said “No”. The lady on the other end of the line paused, and then said “Do you not have it with you then?”… at which point I realised I was not talking to a robot, but a very monotone, bored sounding and not been awake that long (although ultimately very helpful) lady. I doubled up on the politeness thereafter, and regretted my early morning, can’t-be-bother attitude at the start of the call.

I’m also re-watching the Battlestar Galactica (BS:G) remake, the more recent series. I think it’s fantastic, the CGI, costumes, sets are all great – I particularly like how they make the ships fly and drift in space, with little bursts of rocket to spin them around, instead of making them swoop and fly like planes.

Anyway, in BSG there are the Cylons, who were just robots but then they made clones that look Human but are sort of synthetic and programmable and can download when they die to a new body.

There’s this massive race issue with Human/Cyclon hatred generally going both ways, but some Cyclon/Human sympathy forming on both sides of the war.

As well as the constant negativity between parties, more serious issues come up like execution without trial (because a Cyclon is a machine and you don’t give a machine a trial) and allowing a member of the opposite race to cross sides and become officers.

Whilst all this is happening there is the debate that Cylons can think, love, eat, sleep, dream etc, so they should be treated like people. Others argue it’s all programming and not real, they’re not Human.

But something I realised this morning, is that whilst a lot of people (real or fictional) struggle with the idea of thinking of a machine as “real” or “alive” – this world is full of people that de-humanise actual Humans.

Across the world people are treated like they are different to their oppressors – not just on a large scale (slavery, people trafficking etc) but on small scales, like domestic abuse, theft…. and arson.

When someone burnt my car, they also burnt my family’s car. They burnt the possessions inside it – nothing the insurance companies can replace. No one can replace the massive, warm, hi-vis jacket that I pinched off my Dad 10 years ago that’s been sat in the boot of every car I’ve owned, has been worn by a number of my friends as we’ve huddled around in the cold after a kayaking trip.

The car seats have gone, the teddies that live in the car to keep the girls happy on the road, the CDs I’ve made and had for years, the CD Holly made me when we got together.

I spent months choosing the right car, making sure it would fit our lifestyle, as well as literally fit everything into the car. The car meant so much to us, that I bought exactly the same model when the first one’s engine failed a month after buying it.

So I seriously doubt, that the (probably very young) people that set fire to my car and my neighbour’s, really thought about the owners of the car when they did it.

Some part of their minds must have consciously moved that thought to the back of their mind, that what they were doing was hurtful and inconsiderate, they would have chosen not to think about the people they were doing it to.

They’ve intentionally de-humanised us, to enable themselves to get a bit excited because they have such empty, shit lives.

If I met them and explained what they’d done, I genuinely think they’d feel guilty. If not, then they need taking off the streets. Someone needs to re-explain to them what is it to be human.

So around the world we’re working towards getting people to treat everyone equally and with dignity, we should probably start treating robots in the same way, to avoid any Matrix/I Robot/Robopocalypse/Battlestar Galactica type situations.

In summary:

To the robots that have helped me on the phone in the last day or so, I am very grateful

To the people that have supported me on the phone, and in the real world, I am very grateful

To the biological disasters that torched my 5 year olds pink car seat, and her teddy, and her sister’s teddy… you know what, it’s probably best I don’t write anything else down.

Just hope we don’t redefine human.


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