To some degree this is presumably a legal question, but my question is really trying to ask about the principle here.

I guess the core question is about what expectations a "reasonable" agent might be construed to have as regards privacy.

The edge case where even consciousness is somehow public and legible is what particularly interests me here, though. What if any might the ethical implications be of inspecting a sentient machines' code, or perhaps more provocatively, somehow directly inspecting its "qualia" while it's running?

(Though presumably at this post-Singularity point, many of the ethical referents that sustain an individual expectation of privacy would have mutated irrecognizably...)

1 Answer 1


I don't think there is any "reasonable expectation" in principle, just a lot of arbitrary choices. Privacy-seeking is a non-rational behavior that provides certain advantages in various social situations. It can provide protection from disease, allow behavior that is individually beneficial but not desired by the alpha individual, and so on.

If you ask what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy for humans, then there may be an answer with a sound biological basis. But although different levels of privacy do have game-theoretic consequences for abstract (presumably rational) agents, there is no intrinsic reason to prefer one over another without knowing a lot more about the rest of the context.

  • Great answer and accepted -- just curious if you might have any thoughts on the secondary question about the case where qualia can be directly inspected. (I guess the question is whether there could be any reasonable principles that would ground my intuition that examining such a transparent agent's experiences would be a gross violation of a sentient being.)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 23:33
  • 2
    @JosephWeissman - I seriously doubt there could be any such principles. For example, one could imagine a hive-mind-like assemblage of sentient creatures where, although the creatures were capable of being fully autonomous, they felt sad and lonely and error-prone without the constant reassurance of being inspected. That this can be envisioned as desirable has evidence among humans: isn't God supposed to be able to do exactly this, and don't some people seem to approve? So again, I do not think there is any reasonable expectation a priori. What is okay depends on the nature of the agents.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 1:14

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