What makes humans special among animals? As a Protestant christian I will always assert that it’s a divine mandate from God. The Bible tells us that we are unique among the creatures of Earth, created as the crown Jewel of His creation. The much more common view however is the evolutionary approach. That we are just another animal and that nothing makes us really intrinsically different than the rest of the animal kingdom.
Under this view we are elevated by a handful of interacting factors. As humans our brains have developed enough to have obtained the capacity for rational thought. We might not be alone in this as it has been asserted that elephants and dolphins may also have this capacity. It is readily apparent however that we have the greatest capacity for this though. In addition to this, we have a very high drive to organize ourselves for safety. This is what has led us to develop societies. Finally and related to the first point, something causes us to worry about ethical dilemmas.
It won’t be much longer however before we are no longer the only beings on Earth that worry about these things, or bear these burdens of having awakened minds. Artificial intelligence is developing further and further every single month. There is a huge industry in the tech sector devoted to programming and teaching computers how to think for themselves. Today I have a question that we all need to begin thinking about. What happens when they are smart enough and self aware enough to have higher reason themselves? What are the implications for our societies if our computers think and act exactly like us?
It is no secret that Heinlein is my favorite author. So I will go back to his well once more to give us an example to work through. In his novel “the moon is a harsh mistress” there is a character by the name of Adam Selene. Adam is not a human. He is not an extra-terrestial either. “He” is actually a self aware computer. In the novel he plays the integral role in helping the other protaginists foment and lead a revolution on the moon. He is not just running calculations for them though. He is their first president and leader. He actively helps them write their constitution, form their government, and solve the philosophical issues of building a new more free society. This is the Crux of it for me. If computers could ever become this intelligent, if a computer could do all these things, would it deserve citizenship?
What is the most crucial component of a citizen? I would argue it is two fold, the means to serve the polity, and the choice to do so in whatever capacity that a person will. For example, the act of voting is serving the polity and you choose to do so by going to the polls. Well if a computer were aware enough to be able to submit a ballot why shouldn’t it be able to? Working out of an evolutionary frame work I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t also be able to participate in a system that they are capable of understanding and contributing to.
On the other hand however there are very real concerns. Without term limits, or a delete time for the AI to end their “life” one could be elected an infinite amount of times. I can’t speak for you but I’m not ready for robot over lords. How would a program pay taxes? They don’t earn or have use for any kind of income. What kind of rights would they have or be able to exercise if a programmer could just dig through their files for information. These are just the tip of the iceberg. The more time you think about it the more problems you can find with giving them citizenship.
How can you deny a fully thinking being the same freedoms and liberties that we enjoy though? This is what the issue always comes back to for me. In my mind this is why when the technology comes, and it is coming, we must be prepared to grant them full citizenship. I am keenly interested in any thoughts you all may have. Please feel free to comment and contribute to the discussion.