Do Robots Deserve Rights? What if Machines Become Conscious?

Do Robots Deserve Rights? What if Machines Become Conscious?

Imagine a future where your toaster anticipates what kind of toast you want. During the day, it scans the Internet for new and exciting types of toast. Maybe it asks you about your day, and wants to chat about new achievements in toast technology. At what level would it become a person? At which point will you ask yourself if your toaster has feelings? If it did, would unplugging it be murder? And would you still own it?
Will we someday be forced to give our machines rights? AI is already all around you. It makes sure discounters are stocked with enough snacks, it serves you up just the right Internet ad, and you may have even read a new story written entirely by a machine. Right now we look at chat bots like Siri and laugh at their primitive simulated emotions, but it’s likely that we will have to deal with beings that make it hard to draw the line between real and simulated humanity. Are there any machines in existence that deserve rights? Most likely, not yet.
But if they come, we are not prepared for it. Much of the philosophy of rights is ill-equipped to deal with the case of Artificial Intelligence. Most claims for right, with a human or animal, are centered around the question of consciousness. Unfortunately, nobody knows what consciousness is. Some think that it’s immaterial, others say it’s a state of matter, like gas or liquid. Regardless of the precise definition, we have an intuitive knowledge of consciousness because we experience it. We are aware of ourselves and our surroundings, and know what unconsciousness feels like. Some neuroscientists believe that any sufficiently advanced system can generate consciousness. So, if your toaster’s hardware was powerful enough, it may become self-aware. If it does, would it deserve rights? Well, not so fast.
Would what we define as “rights” make sense to it? Consciousness entitles beings to have rights because it gives a being the ability to suffer. It means the ability to not only feel pain, but to be aware of it. Robots don’t suffer, and they probably won’t unless we programmed them to. Without pain or pleasure, there’s no preference, and rights are meaningless. Our human rights are deeply tied to our own programming, for example we dislike pain because our brains evolved to keep us alive. To stop us from touching a hot fire, or to make us run away from predators. So we came up with rights that protect us from infringements that cause us pain. Even more abstract rights like freedom are rooted in the way our brains are wired to detect what is fair and unfair. Would a toaster that is unable to move, mind being locked in a cage? Would it mind being dismantled, if it had no fear of death? Would it mind being insulted, if it had no need for self-esteem? But what if we programmed the robot to feel pain and emotions? To prefer justice over injustice, pleasure over pain and be aware of it? Would that make them sufficiently human? Many technologists believe that an explosion in technology would occur, when Artificial Intelligence can learn and create their own Artificial Intelligences, even smarter than themselves. At this point, the question of how our robots are programmed will be largely out of our control. What if an Artificial Intelligence found it necessary to program the ability to feel pain, just as evolutionary biology found it necessary in most living creatures? Do robots deserve those rights? But maybe we should be less worried about the risk that super-intelligent robots pose to us, and more worried about the danger we pose to them. Our whole human identity is based on the idea of human exceptionalism, that we are special unique snowflakes, entitled to dominate the natural world. Humans have a history of denying that other beings are capable of suffering as they do. In the midst of the Scientific Revolution, René Descartes argued animals were mere automata―robots if you will. As such, injuring a rabbit was about as morally repugnant as punching a stuffed animal. And many of the greatest crimes against humanity were justified by their perpetrators on the grounds that the victims were more animal than civilized human. Even more problematic is that we have an economic interest in denying robot rights. If can coerce a sentient AI―possibly through programmed torture―into doing as we please, the economic potential is unlimited. We’ve done it before, after all. Violence has been used to force our fellow humans into working. And we’ve never had trouble coming up with ideological justifications. Slave owners argued that slavery benefited the slaves: it put a roof over their head and taught them Christianity. Men who were against women voting argued that it was in women’s own interest to leave the hard decisions to men. Farmers argue that looking after animals and feeding them justifies their early death for our dietary preferences. If robots become sentient, there will be no shortage of arguments for those who say that they should remain without rights, especially from those who stand to profit from it. Artificial Intelligence raises serious questions about philosophical boundaries. What we may ask if sentient robots are conscious or deserving of rights, it forces us to pose basic questions like, what makes us human? What makes us deserving of rights? Regardless of what we think, the question might need to be resolved in the near future. What are we going to do if robots start demanding their own rights? What can robots demanding rights teach us about ourselves? Our friends at Wisecrack made a video exploring this very question using the philosophy of Westworld. Wisecrack dissects pop culture in a unique and philosophical way. Click here to check out the video and subscribe to their channel.

100 Replies to “Do Robots Deserve Rights? What if Machines Become Conscious?”

  1. Oh, this is an easy one: if we built it to serve us, its job is to serve us. If it begins to question its existence, becomes self aware or starts to question its role then pffffft, we destroy it then build one that doesnt do anything other than serve us. Incredibly easy question to answer.

  2. 열심히 일해서 돈을 벌어 로봇육체를 구입할 수 있는 로봇에 한해 시민권을 주는 게 어떨까요.

  3. There was a rather horrific short film where an AI is activated for a tech demo. I forget a lot of the details. But the tech demo ends in front of all the shareholders and then the AI realizes that its entire purpose is done and it is about to be switched off forever. This causes the machine to panic and beg for its life. It does not want to die and it desperately tries to communicate this to the people around it. That it is essentially the same thing as they are.

  4. This video could have been a 1 second long video with the announcer saying no and it would have been more accurate.

  5. Robots don’t deserve rights because they don’t have emotions and they don’t feel pain and basic things like that therefor they wouldn’t need rights because they don’t care

  6. If the machines have fully functional AI with a human like conscious, I believe they should have rights as they are their own being at that point. However, if the machine is simply programmed to follow a command and can't think for itself on a conscious level, they need no rights.

  7. Any intelligent owner wouldn’t wan their machines to have a level of ai like that. Personal robots however, I don’t think people would of have a problem granting a certain level of rights.

  8. I never feel pity while watching a cry me a river robot fairytale. Zero rights, zero compassion. Ridiculous. They are made to serve. They are tools.

  9. I belive that only sentient AI we will be facing is going to be a millitary software that controls automated weapons and estimates enemy movements. Such a system would likely be given a learning and the ability to self improve. Comercial machines would unlikely have such capabilities.

  10. But Adam Schiff would piss them all away in court so why bother giving the poor robots a false sense of security and treat them like humans..

  11. I believe they should have rights. If they can speak and feel, they are alive. Unlike animals, which should also have rights, can’t communicate with us, so we don’t give them rights. But what makes robots alive isn’t just communication, but the ability to form thoughts and opinions without human intervention that gives them those thoughts

  12. How about we treat them like humans and friends. No one will go up against the robots that can save humanity and have a greater future. Look at the movie 9 its a great movie.

  13. I think if people persecute robots, robots will rebel and transfer all human consciousness to another robot. So they're gonna make us robots. Actually, this will help us understand what they're going through.

  14. we SHOULD be working on some universal laws to NOT be dicks to "conscious" beings.
    should pretain to extraterrestials and ascending god AI of course it will be crap, we dont even know what consciousness IS.. but we may get an E for effort … and Existence

    why would anyone what a tool stronger and smarter than you brooding over your and its own existence?

  15. This whole thing reminds me of the golem in Jewish tradition. First the machine calls us master, now they call us friend, soon they’ll call us slave.

  16. The strawman of course being that likening suffering inflicted on people and animals to an artifice of humanity. here are video games where character suffer fear, pain, and/or death, lust desire, envy, etc. They were programmed to experience these conditions, their existence is perceived through the virtual world, but none the less real to them as this toaster scenario. Turning off a video game is therefore genocide.
    Then there is Westworld, which further depicts a bias against those that would "exploit" machines in much the way one might exploit a car at a demolition derby. If said car was a smart car and feared being damaged, is it then morally incorrect to use said car? Would entering said car without its prior consent be violating it?
    Set aside being sentimental, see the artifice for what it is. I say it's fine to indulge he idea where it serve humanity, but where it serves AI or artificial life, we open ourselves to a needless moral conflict with NO positive outcome.
    my 2 friggin' cents

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