Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies


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Was Helen O’Loy a person, or merely a thing?


Jønathan Lyons


Ethical Technology

November 21, 2012

I teach a course in science fiction and bleeding-edge science fact; it started as a course in science fiction, but then I noticed how much sci-fi was becoming real, if sometimes weird, science. One story I started out teaching is the Lester del Rey classic Helen O’Loy. Published in 1938, del Rey’s narrator, Phil, and his housemate, Dave, tinker with what’s described as a standard housework android, modifying and upgrading zir abilities until ze becomes a she — a self-aware artificial life form — at least, as far as we can tell, she does.


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