Friday, June 5, 2009

Rights of the Individual vs. Rights of the Individual

It is a staple of science fiction to tell a tale in which artificial intelligences must struggle to attain equal rights with humans. It is also commonplace to recognize that, if a human being uploads their consciousness to a machine, the rights are carried with that consciousness.

People find it much easier to accept that an artificial intelligence deserves rights when that intelligence inhabits a body. This is, of course, a natural by-product of the way our brain interprets other humans as moral agents - our moral sense evolved to recognize other humans as deserving of rights.

When speculating about a consciousness being uploaded from its originating human body to a machine, we usually assume that either the body is then rendered effectively comatose (a shell or doll, so to speak) thus removing moral obligations to the body, or we assume that the consciousness is copied to the machine while also remaining in the body, creating two beings each deserving of moral consideration.

I would like to consider the former situation - suppose that a human consciousness is uploaded to a machine and the body then retains its neural ability to regulate breathing, heartbeat, and other unconscious brain functions, but does not keep memories or even acquired skills. Is the body then truly no longer deserving of moral consideration?

Shouldn't we then treat this body as a somewhat comatose individual? In this case, this "uninhabited" body may very well relearn motor skills and language as an infant would (alright, neuroplasticity in adults is much lower than in infants, so it could relearn these things as a developmentally challenged infant would), then it might proceed to develop another new personality. Should we dismiss this possibility outright and simply treat this body as a shell?

I think these ideas certainly merit consideration, but are highly unlikely to be resolved until such time as we actually develop some form of consciousness-uploading technology.

Additionally, the primary source for my thinking about these ideas is the series Dollhouse which, near the end of season 1, poses the question of whether or not the mind has an obligation to the body.

Clearly, of course, all this presupposes that mind and body are, in fact, separable in some meaningful sense, which I believe to be a reasonable idea but clearly not yet supported by evidence.