If hypothetically someone were to create an artificial intelligence possessing systemic consciousness nearby that of humans, then would that separate entity be entitled to basic rights such as those which humans enjoy?

To not make it opinion based, please answer in this light: what would the advocates of different philosophical beliefs/schools of thought have to say about this?

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    If you could rephrase this so it doesn't call for as much opinion, it would be helpful. For instance, the question seems to be an ethical one and as such, you could try asking about what the various ethical positions would have to say about a conscious AI's rights?
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 8 '15 at 17:46
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    @A.SATHE25 Please see a similar question on this site philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/26729/…
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 8 '15 at 17:55
  • It is likely they would have some. We accord dogs and cows some kind of rights via the SPCAs. But it seems unlikely we would decide on the same set of rights for an AI and a human. For instance, what is inappropriate imprisonment to a machine in a box? What is death to something with its whole experience perfectly recorded? What is pain to something whose needs and aversions have been decided upon not by its nature, but by whoever shaped its original motivations? In order to make this a real question, you might need to ask what those rights would be and why.
    – user9166
    Oct 8 '15 at 19:32
  • @jobermark you make some interesting points, but I don't see how motivations shaped by nature differ from motivations shaped by others. Not only are they still extrinsically defined motivations, but we can argue that most of our "higher level" motivations are shaped by others (and given strength solely because nature shaped us to care about the reactions of others).
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 8 '15 at 19:47
  • I do not vote for closing The question asks for an argumentation in favour or against attributing fundamental rights to an intelligent artificial system. That's an interesting, eyeopening question from ethics.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 8 '15 at 19:59

The question seems to boil down to this...

Is an AI the kind of entity that would qualify for basic human rights?

What qualifies humans for rights? The arguments I've seen include rationality and sentience, so let's look at those.

Rationality doesn't hold up as even the severely mentally impaired have rights. While their rights may seem curtailed (such as them being institutionalized), those are considered measures for their own protection.

Sentience is questionable. Those who are comatose or brain-dead are arguably not sentient, yet there is intense debate about pulling the plug on them. Do these arguments stem from the possibility that they are sentient or may regain sentience? Admittedly, the debate gets less intense if it's agreed that they will never recover, but it still goes on.

What if our capacity to feel pain or pleasure contributes to our rights? In this view, we could argue that our rationality increases our ability to feel both and thus qualifies us for more rights. For instance, we have plans, goals, ideals and dreams that make things like imprisonment painful, even if we were imprisoned in comfort. Thus caging a human qualitatively differs from caging a lion.

Those are among the questions that need to be answered. However, is this how we decide on rights? Or do we simply give rights to biological humans and then use post hoc reasoning to justify our decision?

To give this answer a further philosophical wrinkle... if we use a pain/pleasure requirement for rights, then this fits a Consequentialist Philosophy of ethics, such as Utilitarianism. Utilitarians focus on maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain so their decision would hinge on the AI's capability to experience these. Sentience does not imply affect, so if an AI can't feel either, then it needs no rights for it cannot suffer from their lack and vice versa.

  • Cows have the 'right' not to be tortured in most Western cultures, even though they are born just to be killed at our convenience. I don't see how that means that 'does not qualify' as a right. Even works of art end up with rights, in modern democracies with an attachment to their own history.
    – user9166
    Oct 9 '15 at 16:16
  • @jobermark they don't qualify as they are so draconian they are not what most people think of when they think of rights for an "intelligent" being. Still, your point is well-taken, and I adjusted my section on animals to clarify. Thank you.
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 9 '15 at 16:31
  • I am not sure what is 'draconian' about the difference between a human's right not to be tortured and a cow's or a dog's. By right, I mean a consideration of the effects on something that must be acknowledged by moral systems and legal institutions for them to be culturally acceptable. This is definitely one such consideration we have allowed to creep in. It may be indirect, as Kant would insist, in that what really matters is the effect on humans of knowing that it is happening. But we still expect it to be afforded, and it has moral standing in court.
    – user9166
    Oct 9 '15 at 16:41
  • @jobermark in free countries, people have a right not to be imprisoned without trial, to participate in elections, etc... These are rights that a cow does not enjoy and in this respect, animal rights are quite draconian when comapared with those of people.
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 9 '15 at 16:43
  • The cows rights are minimal, but they are still present. Children also have fewer right than adults. How does the degree or number of rights change their basic character, or alter whether they actually exist?
    – user9166
    Oct 9 '15 at 16:48

I think the difference that should be made here is this:

Fundamental rights depend on a single form of life, uniting both bodily and personal life. Having personal life (what a.i. of a computer perhaps will be able to achieve) can therefore not fulfill the requirements needed for fundamental rights. These rights involve being able to claim them. And suffering under the absence of them. Even if a computer could learn that it is normal to claim these rights, it would be sheer copying of the lifeworld of men because of its "socialization". It would be anthropomorph, but nothing more.

The form of life you are looking for has to be self-organizing and self-positioning, Plessner would have said. Perhaps his philosophy can help you getting deeper into this.


My brother in law is currently working on his post-doc at one of the most advanced behavioural neuroscience research centres in the world developing new brain inspired algorithms for AI. He is literally programming machines to think more like humans. His ultimate goal is to teach computers how to learn the same way humans do. So it's very plausible that if he is successful, that this question could become legitimate.

The thing about rights is that they have to be earned, they aren't simply defined and handed out, they are something that is fought for. As of right now, there is not such thing as, "computer AI rights." I'm sure that there will be a lot of debate over the issue after the fact, most likely initiated and headed by your stereotypical body of liberal college students looking to jump another bandwagon to change the world and broaden the definition of basic civil rights. But until then, the answer is no, not until a body with the appropriate governing powers decides to make it so.

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    The opinion that rights have to be earned is not unanimously agreed upon. For example, there is the class of rights known as "inalienable" rights which are bestown on a human regardless of what they have done or not done.
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 8 '15 at 19:59
  • @CortAmmon You do realize that your inalienable rights are the product of the revolutionary war right? A great many people fought and died so that future generations could receive those rights.
    – ShemSeger
    Oct 8 '15 at 20:45
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    I'm just playing the devil's advocate. I have my thoughts on what rights are as well (which is similar to yours, but not quite the same). However, there are a number of rights "given" by nations, religions, and even schools of thoughts simply for "being." They are also called "fundamental rights," as mentioned in the OP's question. Given that that verbage is not only common, but used in the OP's question, it makes sense to consider them. Alternatively you might phrase your answer as "fundamental rights don't exist, according to philosopher X" which would also be a valid approach.
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 8 '15 at 20:53
  • OK, so it is the American West and I go occupy a piece of land. I stay there for a generation before anyone attacks. Before I ever have to defend it, did I have no right to farm it? Then what was I defending? This idea that everything has to be earned by some sort of industry or warfare is nonsense. To the extent one has rights, one has them simply by acting upon them. They can be taken away, but that does not mean that preventing them from being taken away is what confers them to begin with.
    – user9166
    Oct 10 '15 at 3:21
  • This attitude that struggle is what creates agreement is just a patriarchal, capitalist conceit without any proof. Agreement is what creates agreement, even if conflict and struggle are necessary to maintain it.
    – user9166
    Oct 10 '15 at 3:24

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