AT SOME POINT IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE, we might actually face a sentient, intelligent machine who demands, or who many come to believe deserves, some form of legal protection. The plausibility of this occurrence is an extremely touchy subject in the artificial intelligence field, particularly since overoptimism and speculation about the future has often embarrassed the movement in the past.
Given sufficient advances in neuroscience regarding the architecture of the brain and the learning algorithms that generate human intelligence, the Strong A.I. theory holds that programs could be replicated in software and run in a computer. Raymond Kurzweil is one of Strong A.I.'s leading proponents and one of the inventors of print-recognition and speech-recognition software. Extrapolating from the last few decades' enormous growth in computer processing speed, and projecting advances in chip and transistor technology, he estimated recently that by 2019, a $1,000 personal computer "will match the processing power of the human brainabout 20 million billion calculations per second."
The machines will convince us that they are conscious, that they have their own agenda worthy of our respect. They will embody human qualities. This is important because humans have strong anthropomorphizing impulses, and tapping into them can trigger powerful emotions that reach deep into our evolutionary hardwiring. They will claim to be human. And we'll believe them.
Lawyers in America have been willing to short change human personhood before , by extending rights to non-entities such as corporations. According to Wendell Wallach, co-author of the forthcoming book Robot Morality, corporations that own computers and robots might seek to encourage a belief in their autonomy in order to escape liability for their actions.
LAST YEAR, AT A MOCK TRIAL HELD DURING THE BIENNIAL CONVENTION of the International Bar Association in San Francisco, Martine Rothblatt argued that especially tough case. Now we must worry that a group of attorneys will prepare the path to be used by the next dominant species:the artificially intelligent machine.
The human species is doomed to extinction , all beings at the top of the food chain have come and gone. Ours will be no different.Unfortunately we will also be the first species to have created their successor and their destroyer.
Thinking carefully about what separates the human from the nonhuman, those to whom we grant moral and legal personhood and those to which we do not will help us to understand, value, and preserve those qualities that we deem ours exclusively.
At this current point in history , worries regarding the protection of our species may seem unnecessary, but if we wait for the future it will be too late.