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So goes the scene in Mike Judge’s cult classic film Office Space, which is a cathartic release from the constant indignities of the modern worker. The printer is a source of chagrin for its regular paper-jam notifications and its inability to properly communicate with its human users. There is no trigger to feel compassion toward this inanimate object: It is only a machine, made of plastic, and filled with microchips and wires. When the printer met its demise, the audience felt only joy.

But what if this brutal assault had been on a human-looking machine that had cried out to its attackers for mercy? If instead of a benign-looking printer, it was given a name and human characteristics? Would we still mindlessly attack it? Would we feel differently?

As technology progresses from inanimate objects governed by numbers to human-looking machines controlled with conversations, it raises questions as to the compassion owed to artificial intelligence—and each other.

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