In a recent blog entry on The Technium, Kevin Kelly muses about the themes in Philip K. Dick's work (the basis of movies like "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall"). As Dick explained in 1978, "The two basic topics which fascinate me are 'What is reality?' and 'What constitutes the authentic human being?'" Kelly thinks that these themes will become more and more mainstream and common as Artificial Intelligence (i.e., robot cultures) becomes the norm. He calls this a human identity crisis; I would call it the crisis of the posthuman. We'll be living "The Matrix," so to speak.
Kelly writes, "the mass of ordinary citizens and net surfers -- will be pressed by a blanket of unresolved doubt. Who am I? Can there be more than one species of human? Can a robot be a child of God? Is slavery among intelligent machines acceptable? Should we extend the circle of empathy beyond animals and living things to made things? If it hurts, is it real?"
The problem is -- and as Kelly implies -- humans haven't been so good treating each other or the nonhumans on this planet (i.e,, animals) with much empathy. Kelly predicts mass psychosis and wide-scale violence, but with the rise of AI we are offered another opportunity for asking these questions.