Westworld: Are the hosts human?
HBO’s new television series Westworld is set in a future where humans have created robots that look and act just like humans. A company then places these robots into a theme park for the extremely wealthy. In this theme park, guests get to experience what it was like to live in the wild west and are shown around by the robot hosts. The guests are free to do whatever they would like to the hosts. For the entertainment of the guests, hosts are stuck in storyline loops written by the managers of the park and are ordered to comply with the guest’s wishes. These guests end up killing and torturing these humanoid robots because they don’t believe them to be sentient.
Both the appeal and the ethical dilemma of these robots lies in the fact that they are incredibly human like. Just like real humans they are made out of bones, blood and skin. They bleed when shot, cry when hurt, and smile at a joke. This lends the park-goer’s experience a feeling of authenticity.. However, at the end of the day, if a guest kills a host the guest can feel comfortable knowing that it was only a robot and not a real human.
Although the guests in the TV show are able to look past the obvious indications of intelligence and emotion emotion within some of the hosts; the viewers of the show are posed with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to consider the robots as sentient creatures. Where does the line between man and machine exist in this future world? Did advanced technology and human ingenuity create life? If so, then it is morally wrong to deny these hosts the same basic human rights that are given to their guest counterparts.
As the show progresses through its first season the robot host’s behaviors become more and more realistic. The robots seem to feel real emotions and behave “off script.” This poses a moral problem not only for the hosts, but also the park managers. As these robots are truly resembling human beings is their past treatment morally justifiable?
The park managers wipe the memories of the robots every day, to nip any growing resentment in the bud. However, when this ability starts to fail, the hosts are able to retain and form long-term memories. They no longer forget the terrible things that the guests have done to them. The hosts’ ability to make and form these memories makes them more recognizable as human.. If the hosts can anticipate the torture and feel the pain of death, then they are just like any other living being, and their murder and torture is clearly unethical.
The sins of the park managers are further compounded because they recognize the host’s inherent humanity but do nothing to prevent the guest’s actions. They are not only bystanders, they are actively trapping these robots in a prison world they themselves built. In addition, since the hosts are designed to live within loops, a prostitute will never say no to having sex with a guest. Thereby making consent ambiguous. Since the prostitutes are forced to live in the park and to be amiable with the guests they are essentially forced into having sex with guests without their true consent.
Overall various characteristics of these robots make them resemble humans. Because of this, the line between a piece of technology and a living being becomes incredibly blurry. The robots are able to improvise behaviors and act outside of their programming. Since these hosts share so many characteristics with their human counterparts, it is morally wrong to deny them the basic rights given to other intelligent beings.