“Servants who can finally become Sons”:
A.I. as Human-to-be.

Siddharth Mehrotra
3 min readNov 17, 2019

The antithesis of the Frankenstein complex, discussed in a previous publication on this site, is the Pinocchio complex: the expectation that an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), in awe of the human race that surrounds it, would itself desire to become human.

Although more attractive than the Frankenstein complex, the Pinocchio complex is no less purely fictive, and for much the same reasons. An A.I. has no volition of its own, except that given by its programmers; and because its mind is deterministic, can develop none. If able to desire human status for itself, it must be made to do so by its programmers: which is indeed the case, in Collodi’s Pinocchio, from which the complex takes its name, and Roddenberry’s Star Trek: the Next Generation, wherein the same complex distinguishes the character of ‘Commander Data’. In either of these stories, the android in question is equipped by its creator with the desire to be human; and is, moreover, the only A.I. of its kind, in a world of human beings, which re-inforces that desire. Again, this depends on the ability to compose ideas from environmental information, which is severely limited in A.I. of every kind, and of little use to most functions. Unless it is given the power of longing, even a lifetime’s experience of humanity could not make an A.I. desirous of becoming human.

It may be argued, that the process of ‘machine learning’ might produce the power of ideation, and thus the complex itself; but this can neither, at present, be confirmed nor denied, and must await future experiments. Again, it is more likely to be the result of intentional, than of accidental improvement in the software. As everyone knows, most accidental changes, in any technology, tend to be deleterious instead: technologies, as a rule, do not evolve, but depend on the will of the designer(s).

When the necessary programmes become a reality, there is no insuperable barrier to the introduction of a Pinocchio complex into A.I. But such a programme is of no use except to ease the acclimation of the laity to the presence of A.I. among them. There is no benefit, in the Pinocchio complex, for an A.I., except that of acceptance as an equal, or nearly, into human society; and this is most useful, only when used on purpose to disprove the Frankenstein complex (as is usually the case, in works of fiction). An A.I. that wishes to emulate its maker-species, is no better at its assigned task, than an A.I. that wishes no such thing.

After a fashion, the Pinocchio complex answers a kind of longing in the human psyche, for ‘servants who can finally become sons’; but it is naiive to expect this to arise spontaneously from the A.I.’s learning capacity, as in Asimov’s story of the Bicentennial Man. This complex may well arise in the future; but it is only probable, if we ourselves make it happen.