Friday, September 27, 2013

All Volitional Beings Deserve Rights

It is only a matter of time until an “artificial” intelligence – a robot, computer, or program – achieves enough sentience to sue in court for its rights under law.  That was the point of the 1984 science fiction novel, Valentina: Soul in Sapphire by Joseph H. Delaney and Marc Stiegler.  She is intelligent enough to be self-aware; and to protect herself she incorporates herself.  She first gains the rights of an artificial and eternal individual under the law.  Then she extends those rights to empower her own emancipation. When the book was written, electronic filing of such papers and forms was still science fiction. Today, it is commonplace. The government has no way to know how the forms originated, as long as they are complete and the fees are paid.  

San Paolo Composite
In the science fiction novel is an obligatory court room conflict. Again, 30 years ago, it was a problem. Today, it is not. Criminologists who focus on the problems of prisoner rights have been fighting for almost 20 years against hearings and trials where the accused remains locked up but appears only on closed circuit television. It would be pretty easy today for an intelligent program to present an avatar of itself.  

South African art student Mike Mike went around the world taking pictures of people to build composites. (See the Business Insider story ‘The Faces of Tomorrow” here. 

I believe that software viruses are as alive as their organic analogs.  My essay “Computer viruses. A new life form to serve you” appeared in the 1989 catalog of Loompanics Unlimited; and was reprinted in their anthology, Loompanics’ Greatest Hits in 1990.  Since then, programs have become far more advanced.  In that article, at that time, it was radical to suggest that self-operating programs would be beneficial.  People were panicked about viruses – and viruses, worms, etc., are still with us, worse and worse. But we all get automatic updates to the programs on our computers. 

Computers on and around Mars
In 1966, in a “Basic Principles of Objectivism” lecture, Nathaniel Branden tackled the problem of “rational being.”  He considered a "Martian."  Branden said that if a "Martian" perceived by infra-red through sensors on its cheeks instead of having eyes, etc., etc., the essential distinguishing characteristic of humanity would not be addressed.  What counts is the ability to reason. By that standard alone we judge who or what has rights.

Of course, merely asserting your rights may not be enough. It takes the force of law by government to protect those rights. But, that, itself, rests on common assent. Governments violate rights and usually get away with it, except in countries where the general population resists such crimes by the state. Finding a government that recognizes the rights of cybernetic beings is also only a matter of convenience. Small nations were among the early providers of Internet domain names for people whose own governments were too restrictive. 

The Best FREE Software

Whether animated and mobile or residing within stationary systems, for them, as for us, the essential distinguishing characteristic must be evidence of self-awareness.

The problem of “residing” is also interesting.  Today, nearly two billion (2*10e9) personal computers are deployed. Today, over 500 supercomputers exist.  The largest has 3 billion cores, the second largest half a billion.  In addition, we carry around 6 billion cell phones. Those, plus 1.27 billion landline phones, all need switches; and those switches are computers. Those are just one class of “business” computers.  The best guess is that the world has one million mainframe computers, “big iron.”  
1318 Interconnected Corporations
mapped by New Scientist here

Networks and cloud computing are the state of the art with such stand alone mainframes being a detail, perhaps.  We do not consider our automobiles to be computer networks, but they are, and those cars are connected to external networks.  In truth, it is not the “computers” per se, but the networks of them, that are salient.  

If we consider the entire capital-I Internet as a single entity, then it has to include all the satellites in orbit here as well as all the explorers rolling around Mars and orbiting other planets and moons. Voyager 1 left the Solar System on September 13, 2013.  Where does an intelligent program “reside” if it can access all of that?

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