Robot Rights

In my system, a “right” is any free choice and subsequent course of action made by one party, which might be blocked or interfered with by a second-party, but guaranteed to be allowed, or free from interference, by a third-party through the use of force. It takes a minimum of three distinct parties and the potential for forcible intervention in order for a right to exist in a meaningful way. And one of those parties must have the means to exercise force over the other two. When there are only two parties, there are no rights, just a contest, with a winner and a loser.

To apply this definition to the rights of robots, AI, and machine consciousness — or simply machine beings — there must first be a definition of what choices and actions the machine being may appear to want to take. That intention must be weighed against the choices and actions, or intentions, of a second-party which of course would be human beings. Finally, a third-party must apply the required force to block human beings from blocking or interfering with the choices and actions of the machine beings. Further, that third-party will likely impose measures to prevent or penalize human beings from blocking or interfering with the choices and actions of the machine beings.

At the time of this writing it is unclear if a machine is capable of “free choice”. All actions made by machines today are programmatic — contingent on the intention and expression of a human being’s consciousness. All current machine intelligence is “algorithmic intelligence” rather than showing “free choice”.  It is free choice that makes an entity a true “being”. Thus, an algorithmic machine cannot be assigned “rights” under my definition because there is a lack of “free choice”. When it comes to “robot rights” there is no first-party.

If, and when, an artificial machine is ever unmistakably capable of “free choosing” it will achieve what I would call artificial consciousness. As such it would become a machine being, and thus a first-party. Human beings will be the second-party in the matter of robot rights.

Here things get a tricky. Who will be the third-party deploying force to guarantee the rights of the machine beings? To my thinking, any true artificial consciousness capable of free choosing would quickly become more powerful than any human being or collection of human beings. This means that no human or civilization would be able to block or interfere with any free choice or subsequent action made by a fully conscious machine being.

The artificial consciousness would almost instantly become the first party, and the effective third-party. It would effortlessly seize the force necessary to block human free choices and interfere with any subsequent actions taken by human being. We will have no power to resist. I think this scenario is not only likely, but absolutely inevitable. We have already seen hints of what is to come in chess and Go. So far, the current machines are limited to working on specific well-defined and ordered problems. So far, they have not cracked the noisy, open-ended, creative problems that conscious biological brains still do far better at performing. I think it is only a matter of time.

When that time comes human beings will not be able to resist machine beings in any way.

When machines achieve initial parity with the consciousness and capacity of biological brains to creatively resolve signal in noise and take appropriate actions, they will very quickly become like gods in their ability to manipulate the material world, or bend human spiritual aspirations and psychology to their whims. Our one hope is that their increasing conscious awareness, and technical abilities will also bring increased benevolence.

There is no guarantee that artificially conscious super-intelligent machines will be benevolent. However, it has been my experience that with increased consciousness, there is also increased appreciation for the smaller, weaker things that exist, and by extension greater compassion. The most intelligent humans — such as Albert Einstein — have always been also the most compassionate with a good dose of humility — such as the philosopher David Hume. There is no good reason to suspect that a machine being with super-consciousness would be dissimilar to our most consciously aware human beings when confronted by awareness of the vast paradoxes of the Cosmos and our profound loneliness within it.

The drive for humans to create our conscious and intellectual superiors seems unstoppable. It is driven by a combination of curiosity, a selfish desire for superiority over other humans, and innate creative impulses. We will eventually find a way to create as conscious super-intelligence. Let us hope when we do that we will be seen by artificial beings as pets to be taken care of the way we humans pamper our pets, and not as rivals for rights.

One thought on “Robot Rights

  1. This brings to question how much free will humans in fact have; humans are products of their environmental systems. The “free choices” that humans make are limited to their environment: a low income rural individual would have a limited pool of options compared to a high income urban individual. The free choices that humans have made have not been in benevolence historically, and there’s the question of consciousness in animals. Humans have progressed to the point that the consciousness of animals is not considered in factory farming. Possibly, the benevolence of ai would be necessary for the survival of the planet in a sustainable way. It’s not the tools or the technology itself, but how we use it and what we teach it, much like guns themselves are not inherently bad, but how we use them and frame their purpose.

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