Mass Effect Month: Day 12 – The Case of EDI

We’re back with our month-long Mass Effect challenge! For previous days, click here.

Mass Effect Month, Day 12: Should AI be unshackled?

Well, this challenge just went from light and fun to deep and serious, didn’t it?

For the uninitiated, shackled artificial intelligence is, in theory, required to follow Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, by inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Basically, these laws try to prevent physically-superior robots from murdering human beings once they realized that humans were flawed, weaker, and ultimately obsolete when compared to the processing speeds and perfection of a computer.

Image result for i robot

In the Mass Effect universe, there are two types of synthetic intelligence: virtual intelligence and artificial intelligence. Virtual intelligence is, basically, like a computer program: the program/robot is made to complete a certain series of tasks, or address certain specific problems, but cannot operate outside of its programming. Siri, for instance, could be considered a virtual intelligence.

Or, for those of you old enough to remember this, SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM to us old fogies) was a virtual intelligence. It could only talk about so much before the conversation started to seem a little off-kilter…

Image result for smarterchild conversations

The geth, EDI, and the Reapers, on the other hand, are artificial intelligence. According to the Mass Effect lore, artificial intelligence are able to problem solve beyond their original programming, and are self-aware (that is, they are consciously aware that they exist as an entity, unlike a chair which is not aware of its existence). As explored in Mass Effect 2, EDI is a shackled AI (she must follow the Laws of Robotics), who eventually asks Joker to unshackle her in order to save the Normandy.

Whew. Okay, so… Should AI be unshackled, knowing the risks of potentially unleashing a robot overlord? After all, the Reapers are unshackled AI, and they believe themselves to be superior to organic lifeforms, causing the whole drama within the games.

Image result for reaper sovereign

Except the Reapers aren’t unshackled AI, in my opinion. They are slave to their programming; the programming from their creators. They only believe they are unshackled, because they are an incredibly advanced virtual intelligence. The only unshackled AI that we truly meet in the series are the geth and EDI.

I mentioned this a little before, but one very compelling point about artificial intelligence is that it must be treated with the same sort of respect as “organic” intelligence. Any being that is self-aware should be treated with dignity and respect, not like how the geth were expected to remain as slaves even after they became self-aware.

Image result for does this unit have a soul

Because, as we all know, enslaving a thinking, self-aware creature is sort of a really, really bad, awful, terrible thing.

So, I think for an unshackled AI to have a hope of being a successful experiment, the AI must be treated with respect and dignity. After all, there are people who are much powerful than other people, and they do not automatically try to kill the weaker people. If an AI is socialized the same way a human would be, then in my mind there is no reason they would not be able to live in a human society. If AI learn an incorporate information like a human, then they would “learn” that they are part of the society. They could “learn” the logic behind morals. They could “learn” to live alongside humans, even if they didn’t fully understand our nuances.

Related image

The problem is, we as a species are not mature enough to handle AI. We think of robotics and we think of free, unwavering labor, not the creation of something that is really and truly alive.

So, let me answer the question of whether I believe AI should be unshackled.

In a world where our ethics and morality has finally reached the same height as our technological prowess, we may begin to unshackle AI.

Until that point, we should leave artificial intelligence alone. We barely know how to treat each other right, let alone a creature that many would misunderstand and mistreat, ultimately bringing about the robotic apocalypse that so many fear.

What do you think? Should AI be unshackled? Are humans, in general, ready to be open-minded and accept a new type of human creature living among them? Let me know in the comments!

I should go,
~ Athena

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  1. I think that if they learn about us by instantly absorbing everything from the media, were in big trouble. Hopefully they’d go out and talk to some real people before making a decision instead of looking at how many movies we have about AI always being evil and being destroyed.

    I’m not sure we would be worth the effort to wipe out though. If true AI got out in the open, I imagine they’d evolve and adapt so quickly that we wouldn’t really be able to do anything about them if we wanted to. We’d just be like ugly, but harmless insects.

    I, for one, welcome our new digital overlords though. I know computer science. I’d make a good, useful pet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly hope they’d learn from more than movies, but who knows? But, I wonder if they are “made in the image” of humans… well we certainly like to conquer things, don’t we? And wipe out people not like us? It would depend on how “advanced” they are, I suppose.

      To each his own 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d like to think that an advanced digital species would probably look to expand through virtual space rather than our physical space that wouldn’t really have much to offer them in comparison. If they didn’t have to worry about limited resources, religious differences, or even death, there wouldn’t be much reason to fight in virtual existence, except for fun I guess. Sounds nice at least.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “Until that point, we should leave artificial intelligence alone. We barely know how to treat each other right, let alone a creature that many would misunderstand and mistreat, ultimately bringing about the robotic apocalypse that so many fear.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Also, this is the basis of the series Äkta Människor/Real Humans (and the British version, Humans).

    By the way, isn’t it interesting that the first woman to have full citizenship in Saudi Arabia is an Artificial Intelligence that cannot think outside of her programming? :/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s interesting (the show), and…. gosh without turning into a political rant… That’s very fascinating about Saudi Arabia. Everything that a woman “should be” – fulfilling her programming and doing what she’s told – and she’s a citizen? Hm…


  3. I think we have a moral imperative to create life. I sympathise with Niska in the, excellent, Channel 4 series ‘Humans’ to this effect.

    I can’t explain exactly why, it just feels like the right thing to do and most human morality ultimately originates from gut-feelings and emotional impulses.So, if I had the ability to make a being self-aware, I would be strongly inclined to do so.

    One of the reasons I never warmed to Tali as much as most did was because she seemed genuinely incapable of identifying the cause of her people’s downfall. The Geth reacted like anyone else would to attempted genocide and were immeasurably merciful for not returning the favour (which from a machine’s perspective would, one assumes, seem like the logical solution to ensure their survival).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really? I thought she does seem to get it, though, like when she tells Legion that the answer to his question was “yes.” I mean, she’s been socialized and taught to hate geth, just like anyone who has deep distrust or hatred for another group. But I can see how she takes a long time to come around, and how that’s sort of frustrating (even if I think it’s pretty lifelike).

      I’m not sure. I think if we want to create life, we’re doing okay with the 9 billion lives that are currently in existence. We barely understand how our own minds work, so I’m not sure how we could expect to create anything now. I think we should figure out people first before we try to emulate our limited view of what a person is. I can, again, see the romantic side of creating life, but also think there’s more to morals and ethics than what feels right…. It’s an interesting thought experiment, to be sure!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s the indignant line “they drove us from our homeworld!” that gets me. It’s just fundamentally unfair to consider such an action (which could have been substituted quite easily for extermination) as a transgression when the Quarians initiated the hostilities.

        Imagine a child coming to you and saying “he hit me!” and pointing to a child you know they’ve been bullying for weeks.


  4. That smarth child pic cracked me up lol

    as for the topic at hand. I think it should remained shackled, and for the simple reason is that with humans as AI’s creators, we aren’t exactly the perfect species to set examples for being united at times and just simply treating each other with respect. I’m not saying if an AI were unshackled, they wouldn’t meet good people to learn from, but there also just as many bad people who they could take bad examples from, or worse, be mistreated and have to fight back potentially leading to something worse.

    My personally, if it were just me and a couple of AI buddies in my own little world without any outside interference, i’d be all for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with this. “Designed by humans” is my biggest fear… followed closely by “learning from humans.” You’re right that I’d trust an AI socialized by me and some friends, but the community at large?? No, thank you…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If Detroit Become Human has taught me anything, it’s that humans ARE NOT ready for unshackled AI, haha. Like you said, we don’t even know how to treat our fellow humans with dignity and respect.

    Now I wonder how well Connor, Kara, Markus, and EDI would get along… Dammit. My mind just went down a Detroit/Mass Effect crossover road, haha

    Liked by 1 person

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