Being human, becoming human, and ceasing being human

Was reading about a recently released PS4 game called Detroit: Become Human, and was going to add it to my list of games ‘too close to the bone’. But then it struck me that there is another, even bigger category that would accommodate this new game perfectly – i.e. popular cultural products that question what it means to be human. In my mind, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) and The Wizard of Oz (1939) fall right into that category, so we are not talking only about the digital here.

At one point my social media timelines were peppered with the word ‘singularity’. I recall it was around the time when the films Her (2013) and Lucy (2014) came out. Sooooo, my compulsion for list-making kicks in! I am going to write down only the ones that I have seen (although not fully in some cases). I am sure there are more comprehensive, even ranked lists out there – like the time when a friend and I were talking about The Great Wall (2016) and The Last Samurai (2003) and we found there was a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the “white saviour narrative” in films – but I will add on here as I find more myself. That would be more fun for me.

What distinguishes human beings from non-human beings? Could a non-human being become human? Would they want to, as frequently imagined in popular culture? Is there a moment where a human stops being human – with extensive technological interventions into body and mind, for example? Would one person become another with such interventions? Below are a few examples of posing these questions, intentionally or unwittingly.

  • Adventures of Pinocchio (1883)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Robocop (1987)
  • Alien Nation (1988)
  • The Quality of Life, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1992)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999)
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  • I, Robot (2004)
  • Avatar (2009)
  • Dollhouse (2009 to 2010)
  • Her (2013)
  • Lucy (2014)
  • Humans (2015 to present)
  • Criminal (2016)
  • Detroit: Become Human (2018)
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