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"I, of course, feel a natural empathy towards a fellow-manufactured," said the android. "I think you would be well-advised to take our metal colleague with you."
"What's the gimmick? Why is he on this committee anyway?" demanded Salford. He realised, as he did so, that he might be hurting the robot's feelings again, if it had any. But it occurred to him, even as he asked, that the whole question of whether a robot had feelings depended upon whether or not the expression he thought he had seen on its face was an objective or subjective experience. Whether it had just been something projected from his own mind, and his own guilt complex, or whether it had been something that really existed. He wondered vaguely and idly whether robots had souls . . .
He also wondered vaguely and idly whether androids had souls. He had assumed that men did; he was assuming also that intelligent, natural life forms did. If a man had a soul, and a reptile had a soul, then why should not a robot have one. The mind of an an android and the mind of a robot were sentient, independent thinking units in the same way that the mind of a man, or the mind of a reptilian Aslarkian was.
If there was a soul, there was probably a God, and if there was a God, as theologians understood Him, then He was a just and a fair God, and therefore if it was fair and right for a reptilian to have a soul, it must also be fair and right for a robot, or an android, to have a soul. If this chap has a soul, then he is as much as living creature as I am, even though he is tin, and I am flesh and blood, thought Harry. Was life, then, the matter of the ability to think, or was it what the biologists would call life ?
If a metal man could think and an amoeba couldn't was a metal man more alive than an amoeba?
Of course, the biologists, thought Salford, would chip in with this old argument about reproduction. The amoeba, although the humblest living thing, has the ability to reproduce itself. But a robot, given the necessary tools and materials, could build another robot exactly like himself if he had been trained to do it. Here was a problem. If a robot could 'reproduce' itself given the necessary materials and tools, then was it not, perhaps, in every sense, a living thing?
Salford's mind was becoming snarled up with a number of tricky metaphysical arguments . . .
In the first place, he asked himself, was there any quantitative or qualitative difference between a robot reproducing itself with a spanner a screw-driver, and a heap of metal, to assist it—or a living creature reproducing itself by natural biological means? If the robot's reproduction was disqualified on the grounds that it needed raw materials to be effective then the animal reproduction could also be disqualified on the grounds that the animal needed food—a basic raw material—before it could effectively reproduce. No animal would be capable of reproducing if it was denied food, if it was denied those basic chemical raw materials which would allow a new creature to be produced bio-chemically.
The problem was a parallel one and a very deep and significant one. It was, decided Salford, the kind of problem which could conveniently be tossed to the theologians, the metaphysicians, the psychologists, and that amorphous, unnameable pool of mental trouble shooters who just called themselves 'enlightened thinkers.'
Salford became aware that Sligon and the others were looking at him intently.
"Oh, sorry!" said Agent 1117, "I was lost in thought just for a moment."
Power Sphere © R. Lionel Fanthorpe.
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