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Pygmalion and The AI

Pygmalion and The AI
Pygmalion priant Vénus d'animer sa statue, Jean-Baptiste Regnault

College textbooks are infamously expensive. It’s terrible and needs to stop. But, I’m lucky to be in a lot of classes where the required books were available on amazon. Did you know you can get used books on Amazon for like three dollars? What a world we live in. So, I recently got my hands on a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which I’ve been meaning to acquire for quite some time, and I’ve just started looking through it.

You may be familiar with the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. (Actually, in the original story, the woman was never given a name. That came later). It is Greek myth starring a sculptor who despises woman. Predictably, he spends all his time sculpting. Despite his hatred of actual living women, he sculpts a stunningly beautiful one out of ivory. His ideal woman, one he gets to design himself. The problem is, she was so beautiful that Pygmalion fell in love with her. Yeah…a statue…it was an issue. He was so infatuated by the statue that he would bring her gifts and dress her in fine cloths, and even kiss her as though she were alive. I mean, sketchy, but I doubt she minded given that she was literally made of ivory. So, a celebration for Aphrodite he petitioned the goddess to grant him a wife as wonderful as his statue. (Come on man, we all know you’re really just asking her to let you marry the statue. Don’t lie.) But, lucky Pygmalion, Aphrodite saw his love and decided to bring the statue to life. Huge win for Pygmalion.

So that’s the story. It actually went to inspire future artists, as so many myths do. There are operas and paintings based off of it. Maybe you’ve heard of the play “Pygmalion”, by George Bernard Shaw, or the musical “My Fair Lady”. The story has stuck around in one form or another, the basic formula being “guy hates women, then he gets the opportunity to shape one the way he wants, and he decides he loves her.”

It’s obviously problematic. I mean, the guy didn’t like woman until he made his own. He quite literally shaped her. It’s like Build a Bear except it’s Build a Wife. Not a good message. But, upon rereading the story I found myself making an interesting modern-day connection. Galatea is basically an ancient AI. I mean, she is made of non-organic material, crafted by humans, and (in the end), functions as a living being. Now, Greek myths involve gods and goddesses, so when Aphrodite brought her to life, she was made of actual human flesh. She even had children. But, she was still created unnaturally. I’m not gonna to debate the ethics of artificial intelligence right now, but I think it’s a fascinating parallel. Maybe it’s just me? In science fiction we often see artificial intelligence beings so advanced that they are alive in they are just as human as their organic companions. Who’s to say what the philosophical definition of life is? Artificial intelligence is such a fascinating subject. Though Galatea never truly got her own story told, she did become a human in her own right.

Olivia Allen
Olivia Allen is a writer and artist, who manages social media for IDEAS, and has been writing a lot about stars. We love stories, got an idea for a guest blog, contact her at oallen@ideasorlando.com