Friday, January 30, 2009

Do Machines deserve rights?

Or more accurately, as the question recently asked in Wired, Do Human-like Machines Deserve Human Rights? I suggest you read the Wired article to get a clear idea of the argument.

But basically, the argument is does a humaniform machine require the same rights as a human.

In the article I read a graphic description by the author who witnessed the torching of a TMEX doll or a Tickle Me Elmo Extreme doll. Anyone familiar with the item will know that the doll would sing and tell stories while moving it's mouth in sync among other activities. The description was of course skewed toward the fate of the doll, describing it as "googling" as it burned. Far from being repulsed I couldn't hold back a gawf. As they later said, there was no feeling for the office equipment that would often fail that was far more sophisticated. And there might be the rub. Remove the eyes and you have a rather animated pillow which would never invoke such responses.

No, a pair of eyes does not a being make. But then the argument isn't about TMEXs is it. I suspect this is about much more sophisticated automata. And we find ourselves once more at "I Robots" door stoop. Again the question is at what point does a collection of parts, pulleys, pistons and such deserve the rights that are afforded humanity? Does this argument also pertain to toys and devices that share a vague resemblance to the human form? Is affirmation of the latter a slippery slope to the former? I think not. Automata, no matter how sophisticated are creatures of rote. Deviation and spontaneity are but clever misdirection. But sentience, that balance of intelligence and self-awareness tempered by the ability to question and even modify that very negligence - That is what will deserve the protection of such "rights" and therefor might not even be of human form.

So my argument is that something of human form does not instantly have "humanity" bestowed. And it's not bigotry that colors that opinion. As you have already read in the above mentioned article, given a set of eyes and the viewer is willing to imbue human feelings on a mildly clever toy, all I am saying is before the hysterics start, lets discern if there is actual humanity afoot.

Besides if Elmo and Teddy Ruxpin get together, next they might demand the vote?

Read the Wired article


S.M.D. said...

I agree. Just because it looks like something doesn't mean it is something. There are people who look an awful like certain celebrities, and even some that look exactly like, but that doesn't make them that celebrity. Humans are complex beings in much the same way as every other being on this planet. A robot that looks human doesn't necessarily deserve the same rights as us primarily because it may or may not even understand what those rights entail. If the humanoid robot is not actually harmed in any way by being an entertainment act or a servant because it can't be hurt (no programming to give it emotions or desires), then it doesn't really deserve any rights outside of ones we afford most lifeforms, generally speaking. I would be against the sadistic maiming and destroying of humanoid robots (or any robots with any sort of intelligence at all) only because I don't think such behavior should be encouraged, but I'd be hesitant to make laws that say we have to treat something as human when it isn't human.

Now, when robots start actually thinking and approaching human-esque intelligence and are either capable of emotion/desires or at least understand them, then I'm all for protecting them. Even if they are as smart as chimps I'm for protecting them.

Beam Me Up said...

SMD I think you're dead on but got to take a slight issue. When you say that you would be against sadistic maiming and or destroying...
I would have to say that I am find that activity deviant but would not restrict the activity. The comparison here might be say sex dolls. Now as weird at that might sound, its still a device, a device that provides a service of which the buyer intends. If someone takes a manikin and dresses it like a school girl for unsavory activities, is that molestation? We can play the supposition game all night but as gross as it is not molestation. So if I buy the biggest and best robot of the day, program it to do bad Japanese theater and then blow itself up and for an ender I will blow torch whatever is left over, well - its my toy and I can play with it as I like.

In the end though your are correct. When the robot or android or whatever meets all the same criteria as humans do, then they should be afforded rights as a human being. They may never be homo-sapiens but then that's not what we are asking. Just can they be "human"

Shaun said...

Asimov's 'Bicentennial Man'

Beam Me Up said...

Believe me Shaun, that was exactly what I was thinking of when I first read this argument. I honestly think this is a bad or flawed example. The main character in TBM is yes a robot or a machine, but it soon becomes clear that he is ever so much more than just a humaniform construct. So using TBM as an argument for humaniform machines to have human rights is misdirected when the very machine itself realizes that he is fundamentally different than his brethren. So TBM is in itself an argument for machine beings to have the same rights afforded H.Sapiens.

Ron Huber said...

Only predominately protoplasmic entities get rights. And tof them, only the high-end multicellular ones. Whether they universally deserve "rights" is another story.

Beam Me Up said...

And you are fundamentally ok with that opinion Ron? So you would only champion carbon based / DNA-RNA multi-cellular life? Rather narrow stance my friend.