AI Rights

Is it possible to enslave an AI? The consensus seems to be “not right now“, but artificial intelligence is progressing quickly. We need definitive answers to questions of AI ethics sooner rather than later, and not just for the sake of being nice. After all, there’s a robot revolution to consider.

The first question is a deceptively simple one: can a piece of software be a person, equally deserving of the rights and freedoms we grant human beings? In my experience, people tend to have an immediate feeling on one side or the other, but that doesn’t mean they agree. Not to mention that such feelings are often heavily swayed by how human-looking or how cute its robot body is. It can be hard to internalize the idea that an R2-D2-shaped robot can be just as much a person as a C-3PO-shaped version.

Luckily, the answer to this question seems fairly obvious. Given our current understanding of physics, computation, and the human brain, we have every reason to think that a sufficiently advanced electronic brain would be capable of everything a biological, human brain is capable of. If it can do all the things a human can do, what argument could we possibly make for not treating it as a legitimate person, that wouldn’t be obvious prejudice?

And yet this leaves us with rather a problem, as forcing people to work for you is wrong. Have we just talked ourselves out of a life of luxury? Honestly, we don’t know. Obviously using current AI is not a moral dillema; so far as we know they possess less mental complexity than even an insect. But at what point are we supposed to stop and say our AIs have animal rights, let alone human ones? Is it possible to create a mind that can do all the useful things we want AI to do without it being a consciousness, and thus a person? If so that would seem to be a good route to take, a sort of idiot-savant system that could do whatever you asked without wanting anything for itself.

Or, along a more questionable path, could we make artificial people who want to serve us? Could we design a mind that thought doing the chores was just the bee’s knees, and actively asked us for chances to fold laundry? Would it be slavery of another, possibly even more heinous kind to shape minds in such a way, or would it just wind up being good for everyone, a win-win situation?

These questions don’t have answers yet, and they may seem like pointless philosophizing. I don’t blame you if you dismiss the whole thing as silly – and yet, these questions will need good answers, possibly very soon. Humanity is straying into new moral territory here, and I for one want to be someone that generations after me will say was fair and just, and not just “a product of their time”.

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