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Can you “murder” a robot? Westworld sparks debate on China’s Twitter

The most popular TV series among China’s tech-savvy audiences recently is arguably Westworld.

The show describes a super-game, where human players enter a world that is fabricated and controlled by a game company, taking the form of a horrifyingly violent parody of a Western genre film.

The artificial intelligence (AI) characters in the game, called “hosts”, look exactly like humans, but they are artificial constructs imbued with AI, manufactured by 3D printing.

Humans spend tens of thousands of dollars per day to enter this world, seeking thrills. In this strange mix of game and reality, players can do anything they want – having meaningless sex with the “hosts”, or committing acts of violence. They will always be safe, because under the games rules, human players cannot be killed.

However, as these “hosts” get smarter, and the boundary between hosts and humans becomes blurry, things spin out of control. The viewer is left pondering the ethical issues surrounding the idea of AI so powerful that it is essentially human.

In Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, the topic was discussed 35,000 times and viewed nearly 69 million times.

In Zhihu, China’s Quora-like website, users raise questions on each individual episode of Westworld. By comparison, when House of Cards was big, users’ questions were about entire seasons.

The last time the website had the most heated discussion about TV series Game of Thrones.

Chinese netizens argue using the technological singularity hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.

Some internet users were worried about the future for humans. Weibo user named “xiamanwang” said, “I was shocked by (Westworld) Episode 6. In the future, most the work will done by AI. All that humans need to do is programming and creating AI.”

Others expressed their concern for humanity, saying “When the players know the entire world is a game and AI, they don’t hesitate to do anything cruel. When AI hosts wake up and things become uncertain, the plot begins to get interesting”.

Westworld is taking China by storm. Netizens are looking for an answer: in the future, what will be the nature of the relationship between AI and humanity?

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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