Updated: Feb 8, 2019
I live in Canada, one of the few countries that today prides itself with its political inclusion system, with its openness, and with its acceptance of difference. Still.
I was not surprised to see this add in a subway station, and honestly I passed by it daily without seeing anything unfamiliar, being used with the fact that my city promotes a culture of inclusiveness in a variety of ways. I wonder if anything out of the usual is visible for the reader at a first glance. To my surprise, after about a week from the apparition of the poster, I saw that the image proposes a step further in inclusivity, a non-human as citizen, or at least as a bearer of rights. However, the extension of the rights proposed in this visual are not towards the non-human realms already familiar, i.e. animal rights, but towards a form of existence created by humans: a robot. It is only then that I realized the banner was a publicity for gaming. Despite this, the question of the meaning embedded in this image remains: Can we envisage a day in which AI will acquire rights, and under what conditions?
This is a question that generates in fact a series of other related questions with ethical undertones to which we are only partially equipped to answer, if at all.
Usually we associate rights with consciousness and sentience, and the progress we made relatively recently at the scale of human history allowed us to understand that all sorts of live forms should be, at least in theory, bearers of rights. The conversations around the ethics of biological non-human beings rights is a lively one, with eminent thinkers like Tom Regan or Peter Singer leading the path. However, the same conversation theme needs a series of important readjustments if we are to think about AI/ robot lives. First of all, is there any type of consciousness possible in AI case? The opinions are diverging. If yes, is it linked to a form of sentience? Let’s say for the sake of the argument that the answers to both is “yes”.
Given the phenomenological nature of our thinking, we implicitly associate rights to bounded, physical entities, since the rights we are talking about are ‘individual’. While an android type of AI could be easier to identify as a bearer of rights, a networked type of sentient AI will raise questions regarding the identification of the “owner” or “possessor” of the respective rights. Therefore a rather puzzling question is how will a certain set of rights will be distributed in a networked AI? And which particular segment of circuit bears rights?
We may expect that those machines will have an important place in the working forces, as their name suggests (robot). If they are to replace physical work, many of them will not look like us (because probably the very nature of the work they will do will induce a more adapted design than our body may inspire. Considering that we are a highly visual specie, if a non-anthropomorphic android acquires sentient, conscious AI, will it have rights? and what type of rights?
These questions in fact point out to a vast domain that opens up like a Pandora’s box with the advent of AI. Let’s hope we do not leave the hope trapped inside.