Earlier today I watched Rogue One and it was better than I expected. This isn't a review per se, but having seen it I feel even more qualified to smack down the latest lunacy on the web: Are Droids Slaves?
Jonathan V. Last is famous for arguing that the Empire is the good guys in Star Wars, and his latest installment is just as daft. Still, in the interest of moral clarity (and because I am a serious Star Wars fan), I think it's worthwhile to give him the back of my hand.
Before we begin, we must accept the notion that humans have a tendency to project our views and traits onto just about anything. If we're feeling gloomy, the rain outside is nature agreeing with us; if it's sunny, it's because the world shares our joy.
In reality, it's just the weather.
We do the same thing with animals. We like to imagine that dogs really do love us, when in fact their "loyalty" to the pack is a survival instinct. They can't help doing it.
Cats are less domesticated, so we like to imagine that their behavior is filled with nuance and sophistication. It isn't. Like every other animal they want food, shelter and a place to poop. Successful ("good") cats are those that understand that rubbing up against us and sitting quietly on our laps gets them more of these things. They are adapted for survival, just as dogs that learned to fetch sticks were allowed to breed while those that bit kids were not.
Droids are machines. They were built by people and because of that they exhibit the traits of the humans (or other sentient creatures - this is Star Wars, after all) that programmed them.
The key element is that unlike other "organics", (a terms that encompasses everything from Hutts to Wookiees), droids can no more go against their programming than house pets can defy their instincts.
Because we programmed them (just as we've basically shaped every domesticated animal for the last few thousand years), droids give us the appearance of liking us. That makes us feel good. But they don't, any more than dogs "like" to fetch the stick. Do you know why dogs wag their tails? It's because we like it when they wag their tails.
Same thing with droids. R2D2 and C3P0 aren't particularly loyal, they are merely doing what their programming dictates.
At this point, you may be wondering: Why do you care?
Well, artificially intelligence is something I delve into in my latest book series. In "A Man of Destiny," I introduce two robots. Yes, of course they are inspired by Artoo and Threepio (I did mention I'm a huge fan of Star Wars, right?) but the premise if very different.
The reason we would develop droids is to undertake tasks too dangerous or difficult for humans (or sentient aliens). That's an intelligent and life-affirming policy.
The fact is, one could download the entire personalities and memories of the iconic duo into an entirely new body.
You can't do that with actual living things.
Droids that are required to emote, are given the ability to do so. Those that don't, don't.
Those (few) of you who have already read "A Man of Destiny" may ask: "If that's the case, why are Con and Sol so willing to help our heroes?"
The answer is that they have been programmed for different work. They are programmed to obey, yet they also "know" that they are operating outside their design parameters. That explains their behavior.
To put it another way, droids are "slaves" in the sense that cars and smart phones are slaves - they are machines that do what they were built to do. The difference is that the superior interfaces of the droids of the future allow us the luxury of imagining that they have souls and are like us.
But they don't. Threepio and Artoo have as much free will as your car when you turn the ignition key.