May 29, 2016

The Rights of Robots

In my junior year of high school I took AP Lang, a class in which you learn about writing and analyzing things like rhetoric and tone, etc. In all honesty, I learned very little in the class as the result of having three different teachers throughout the course of the year, all seeming to have a different idea of how the class should be taught. When I talk to friends about that class, my diction is usually dripping in disdain.

But there was one assignment in that class I will never forget: we were to write an essay about our thoughts on artificial intelligence. Something about this assignment lit a spark in my mind, and I was determined to go all out on this paper. This was the prompt I was waiting for, and I took advantage of it. My paper received a perfect score, and I really wish that I could find it because it was just so, so good.

Basically I said that artificial intelligence is something that will happen one day, and it is nothing that we should be afraid of; in fact, we should embrace it! Many good things could come with artificial intelligence. For example, robots may be able to take over the economy, allowing people to live a life of leisure. The government could begin distributing a basic income to those put out of work by the robots, and things could just generally be better (the basic income sentiment got the greatest teacher comment I have ever received: "you trust the government THAT much?? Hmmmm...").

But about halfway through the paper, I realized that we as humans are being selfish in our concerns regarding artificial intelligence. We aren't looking past our own interests when we fear world domination by computers and warring robots. These things just won't happen. But what could happen is the denial of rights to robots, and that could be a problem.

For a moment, let's consider the very real possibility of a robot becoming artificially intelligent. The robot will be able to think for itself. That's a pretty significant accomplishment in science, an achievement for the human race. But let's also think about the thing that now has the ability to make decisions on its own. The robot would be in possession of a living mind.

Quickly, I would like to point out that in much of Western philosophy, a "person" is defined as
any human (or non-human) agent which: (1) possesses continuous consciousness over time; and (2) who is therefore capable of framing representations about the world, formulating plans and acting on them.
A couple things stand out to me about that definition. First off, a person could be either a human or a non-human. That means that robots and computers are eligible to be persons!!! Secondly, a computer or robot with artificial intelligence would also meet the requirements to be considered conscious. And finally, an artificially intelligent computer would by definition have the ability to think for itself. Therefore, a robot with artificial intelligence would qualify for personhood.

This leads me to the topic in which much of my amazing essay was about: the rights of robots with artificial intelligence. Robots that can think for themselves deserve rights. And it's quite inevitable; once a robot can think for itself, it will begin to demand rights. As soon as a robot speaks up for itself to demand rights, we must give it those rights, as it is exhibiting the qualities of a person.

All persons have rights. The rights of all persons must be protected, always, no matter what.

What happens when a robot demands shorter work hours?  We listen, we shorten the robot work day. What happens when a robot, inevitably able to fall in love, wants to marry? We listen, and allow it to marry. Again, all persons have rights. The rights of all persons must be protected, always, no matter what.

Artificial intelligence is still far away. It will happen one day though, and we should be ready. But now let's focus on what is at hand currently. The rights of many marginalized groups are being denied. We need to remember that the rights of all persons must always be protected no matter what, now and forever. It's fun to think about the future, but don't forget the world as it is today.

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