Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Will robots have rights in the future?

Perhaps sooner than we think, we'll need to examine the moral standing of intelligent machines.

PETER SINGER: If we become capable of developing artificial general intelligence at such a high level that we're convinced we have actually created a conscious being, a being who can not only sort of express desires or wants but actually feels something inside, has experiences, is capable of feeling joy or sorrow or misery. If we get to that point and I certainly don't think we're there yet but we may get there one day. Then there will be a lot of ethical issues because then we will have created beings like us. And the question has to be raised so do they then have rights like us. And I would say well, why not. If they really are conscious and if they're also able to think, understand themselves. If they're self-aware in the way we are then I think we ought to give as much concern and weight to their interests and their wants as we would give to any one of us.

I've argued that throughout history we have expanded the circle of moral concern from initially it just being our own tribe to a nation race and now all human beings. And I've been arguing for expanding beyond just human beings to all sentient creatures, all beings capable of feeling pain, enjoying their life, feeling miserable. And that obviously includes many nonhuman animals. If we get to create robots that are also capable of feeling pain then that will be somewhere else that we have to push the circle of moral concern backwards because I certainly think we would have to include them in our moral concern once we've actually created beings with capacities, desires, wants, enjoyments, miseries that are similar to ours.

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're responsible for the lives of robots at a similar level. But if we created robots who were 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 ah 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.

  • If eventually we develop artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to experience emotions like joy and suffering, should we grant it moral rights just as any other sentient being?
  • Theoretical philosopher Peter Singer predicts the ethical issues that could ensue as we expand the circle of moral concern to include these machines.
  • A free download of the 10th anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty is available here.

The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty: 10th Anniversary ed. Edition



LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Keep reading Show less

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast