Does conscious AI deserve rights?
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
RICHARD DAWKINS: When we come to artificial intelligence and the possibility of their becoming conscious, we reach a profound philosophical difficulty. I am a philosophical naturalist; I'm committed to the view that there is nothing in our brains that violates the laws of physics, there's nothing that could not, in principle, be reproduced in technology. It hasn't been done yet; we're probably quite a long way away from it, but I see no reason why in the future we shouldn't reach the point where a human-made robot is capable of consciousness and of feeling pain.
BABY X: Da. Da.
MARK SAGAR: Yes, that's right. Very good.
BABY X: Da. Da.
MARK SAGAR: Yeah.
BABY X: Da. Da.
MARK SAGAR: That's right.
JOANNA BRYSON: So, one of the things that we did last year, which was pretty cool, the headlines, because we were replicating some psychology stuff about implicit bias—actually, the best one is something like 'Scientists show that AI is sexist and racist and it's our fault,' which, that's pretty accurate because it really is about picking things up from our society. Anyway, the point was, so here is an AI system that is so humanlike that it's picked up our prejudices and whatever and it's just vectors. It's not an ape, it's not going to take over the world, it's not going to do anything, it's just a representation, it's like a photograph. We can't trust our intuitions about these things.
SUSAN SCHNEIDER: So why should we care about whether artificial intelligence is conscious? Well, given the rapid-fire developments in artificial intelligence, it wouldn't be surprising if within the next 30 to 80 years we start developing very sophisticated general intelligences. They may not be precisely like humans, they may not be as smart as us but they may be sentient beings. If they're conscious beings, we need ways of determining whether that's the case. It would be awful if, for example, we sent them to fight our wars, force them to clean our houses, made them essentially a slave class. We don't want to make that mistake, we want to be sensitive to those issues, so we have to develop ways to determine whether artificial intelligence is conscious or not.
ALEX GARLAND: The Turing Test was a test set by Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. He understood that at some point the machines they were working on could become thinking machines as opposed to just calculating machines and he devised a very simple test.
DOMHNALL GLEESON (IN CHARACTER): It's when a human interacts with a computer and if the human doesn't know they're interacting with a computer the test is passed.
DOMHNALL GLEESON: And this Turing Test is a real thing and it's never, ever been passed.
ALEX GARLAND: What the film does is engage with the idea that it will, at some point, happen. The question is what that leads to.
MARK SAGAR: So she can see me and hear me. Hey, sweetheart, smile at Dad. Now, she's not copying my smile, she's responding to my smile. We've got different sorts of neuromodulators, which you can see up here. So, for example, I'm going to abandon the baby, I'm just going to go away and she's going to start wondering where I've gone. And if you watch up where the mouse is you should start seeing cortisol levels and other sorts of neuromodulators rising. She's going to get increasingly—this is a mammalian maternal separation distress response. It's okay sweetheart. It's okay. Aw. It's okay. Hey. It's okay.
RICHARD DAWKINS: This is profoundly disturbing because it goes against the grain to think that a machine made of metal and silicon chips could feel pain, but I don't see why they would not. And so, this moral consideration of how to treat artificially intelligent robots will arise in the future and it's a problem which philosophers and moral philosophers are already talking about.
SUSAN SCHNEIDER: So, suppose we figure out ways to devise consciousness in machines, it may be the case that we want to deliberately make sure that certain machines are not conscious. So, for example, consider a machine that we would send to dismantle a nuclear reactor so we would essentially quite possibly be sending it to its death, or a machine that we'd send to a war zone. Would we really want to send conscious machines in those circumstances? Would it be ethical? You might say well, maybe we can tweak their minds so they enjoy what they're doing or they don't mind sacrifice, but that gets into some really deep-seated engineering issues that are actually ethical in nature that go back to Brave New World, for example, situations where humans were genetically engineered and took a drug called Soma so that they would want to live the lives that they were given. So, we have to really think about the right approach. So, it may be the case that we deliberately devise machines for certain tasks that are not conscious.
MAX TEGMARK: Some people might prefer that their future home helper robot is an unconscious zombie so they don't have to feel guilty about giving it boring chores or powering it down, some people might prefer that it's conscious so that there can be a positive experience in there, and so they don't feel creeped out by this machine just faking it and pretending to be conscious even though it's a zombie.
JOANNA BRYSON: When will we know for sure that we need to worry about robots? Well, there's a lot of questions there, but consciousness is another one of those words. The word I like to use is moral patient; it's a technical term that the philosophers came up with and it means exactly something that we are obliged to take care of. So, now we can have this conversation: If you just mean conscious means moral patient then it's no great assumption to say well then if it's conscious then we need to take care of it. But it's way more cool if you can say: Does consciousness necessitate moral patiency? And then we can sit down and say, well, it depends what you mean by consciousness. People use consciousness to mean a lot of different things.
A lot of people that this rubs them the wrong way, it's because they've watched Blade Runner or AI the movie or something like this, in a lot of these movies we're not really talking about AI, we're not talking about something designed from the ground up, we're talking basically about clones. And clones are a different situation. If you have something that's exactly like a person, however it was made, then okay it's exactly like a person and it needs that kind of protection. But people think it's unethical to create human clones partly because they don't want to burden someone with the knowledge that they're supposed to be someone else, right, that there was some other person that chose them to be that person. I don't know if we'll be able to stick to that but I would say that AI clones fall into the same category. If you were really going to make something and then say, hey, congratulations, you're me and you have to do what I say, I wouldn't want myself to tell me what to do, if that makes sense, if there were two of me. Right? I think we'd like to both be equals and so you don't want to have an artifact of something that you've deliberately built and that you're going to own. If you have something that's sort of a humanoid servant that you own, then the word for that is slave. And so, I was trying to establish that, look, we are going to own anything we build and so therefore it would be wrong to make it a person because we've already established that slavery of people is wrong and bad and illegal. And so, it never occurred to me that people would take that to mean that oh, the robots will be people that we just treat really badly. It's like no that's exactly the opposite.
We give things rights because that's the best way we can find to handle very complicated situations. And the things that we give rights are basically people. I mean some people argue about animals but, technically, and again this depends on who's technical definition you use, but technically rights are usually things that come with responsibilities and that you can defend in a court of law. So, normally we talk about animal welfare and we talk about human rights. But with artificial intelligence you can even imagine itself knowing its rights and defending itself in the court of law, but the question is why would we need to protect the artificial intelligence with rights? Why is that the best way to protect it? So, with humans it's because we're fragile, it's because there's only one of us and, I actually think this is horribly reductionist, but I actually think it's just the best way that we've found to be able to cooperate. It's sort of an acknowledgment of the fact that we're all basically the same thing, the same stuff, and we had to come up with some kind of, the technical term, again, is equilibrium; we had to come up with some way to share the planet and we haven't managed to do it completely fairly, like everybody gets the same amount of space, but actually we all want to be recognized for our achievements so even completely fair isn't completely fair, if that makes sense. And I don't mean to be facetious there, it really is true that you can't make all the things you would like out of fairness be true at once. That's just a fact about the world, it's a fact about the way we define fairness. So, given how hard it is to be fair, why should we build AI that needs us to be fair to it? So, what I'm trying to do is just make the problem simpler and focus us on the thing that we can't help, which is the human condition. And I'm recommending that if you specify something, if you say okay this is when you really need rights in this context, okay, once we've established that don't build that.
PETER SINGER: Exactly where we would place robots would depend on what capacities we believe they have. I can imagine that we might create robots that are limited to the intelligence level of nonhuman animals, perhaps not the smartest nonhuman animals either, they could still perform routine tasks for us, they could fetch things for us on voice command. That's not very hard to imagine. But I don't think that that would be a sentient being necessarily. And so, if it was just a robot that we understood how exactly that worked, it's not very far from what we have now, I don't think it would be entitled to any rights or moral status. But if it was at a higher level than that, if we were convinced that it was a conscious being, then the kind of moral status it would have would depend on exactly what level of consciousness and what level of awareness. Is it more like a pig for example? Well, then it should have the same rights as a pig—which by the way I think we are violating every day on a massive scale by the way we treat pigs in factory farms. So, I'm not saying such a robot should be treated like pigs are being treated in our society today. On the contrary it should be treated with respect for their desires and awareness and their capacities to feel pain and their social nature, all of those things that we ought to take into account when we are responsible for the lives of pigs also we would have to take into account when we are responsible for the lives of robots at a similar level. But if we created robots who are at our level then I think we would have to give them really the same rights that we have. There would be no justification for saying, oh, yes but we're a biological creature and you're a robot; I don't think that has anything to do with the moral status of a being.
GLENN COHEN: One possibility is you say: A necessary condition for being a person is being a human being. So, many people are attracted to that argument and say: Only humans can be persons. All persons are humans. Now, it may be that not all humans are persons, but all persons are humans. Well, there's a problem with that and this is put most forcefully by the philosopher Peter Singer, the bioethicist Peter Singer, who says to reject a species, the possibility that a species has rights and ought to be a patient for moral consideration, the kinds of things that have moral consideration on the basis of the mere fact that they're not a member of your species, he says, is equivalent morally to rejecting giving rights or moral consideration to someone on the basis of their race. So, he says speciesism equals racism. And the argument is: Imagine that you encountered someone who is just like you in every possible respect but it turned out they actually were not a member of the human species, they were a Martian, let's say, or they were a robot and truly exactly like you. Why would you be justified in giving them less moral regard?
So, people who believe in capacity X views have to at least be open to the possibility that artificial intelligence could have the relevant capacities, albeit even though they're not human and therefore qualify for personhood. On the other side of the continuum, one of the implications is that you might have members of the human species that aren't persons and so anencephalic children, children born with very little above the brain stem in terms of their brain structure, are often given as an example. They're clearly members of the human species but their abilities to have the kinds of capacities most people think matter are relatively few and far between. So, you get into this uncomfortable position where you might be forced to recognize that some humans are non-persons and some non-humans are persons.
Now again, if you bite the bullet and say 'I'm willing to be a speciesist; being a member of the human species is either necessary or sufficient for being a person,' you avoid this problem entirely. But if not, you at least have to be open to the possibility that artificial intelligence in particular may at one point become person-like and have the rights of persons. And I think that that scares a lot of people, but in reality, to me, when you look at the course of human history and look how willy-nilly we were in declaring some people non-persons from the law, slaves in this country, for example, it seems, to me, a little humility and a little openness to this idea may not be the worst thing in the world.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
- A.I. will serve humans—but only about 1% of them - Big Think ›
- Should A.I. have free will? - Big Think ›
- AIs should have the same ethical protections as animals | Aeon Ideas ›
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Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.
- Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
- A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
- A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter<p>Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.</p><p>But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1198-9#_blank" target="_blank">Nature Astronomy</a> on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.</p><p>Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.</p>
Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock<p>Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.</p><p>Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."</p>
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.