So this question stems from the Black Mirror episode I watched. On one hand it's just computer code so who really cares, but on the other it really thinks it is human and thinks it has feelings.

What are some references to philosophical discussions of this question?

  • 3
    See the following question and accepted answer philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/34779/… Oct 1 '17 at 1:54
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because scientific speculation. Oct 1 '17 at 9:40
  • No, it does not "really think" it is human.
    – TheDoctor
    Oct 2 '17 at 1:18
  • You're just carbs and water, but it's wrong to torture you. An AI that was truly aware and feels pain would obviously be wrong to torture. The principles involved are simple, but the details... knowing when an AI has reached that point... are a problem. Some people think it cannot happen, and I certainly hope those people are willing to change their minds if it does. Otherwise, they'd have no ethical restrictions on how they treat an AI. Oct 2 '17 at 20:35
  • Assuming the artificial human is indeed a reality, yes it is immoral/unethical because for all intents and purposes the two are equivalent,their origin being the main difference. Their potential for evolution will also be equivalent.
    – moonstar
    Oct 12 '17 at 18:26

Your question can be split in two components:

  1. You have to figure out does and AI actually experience pain? Is the simulation of emotional states equivalent to actually experiencing emotions? and the accepted answer for responses to this question. If you consider the answer to be "no", the AI don't really feel pain, and torturing them isn't real, so the question is moot.

  2. If the answer is "yes, an AI can experience pain", then the question is a much more complicated one: When is it acceptable to torture a conscious being and when is it unacceptable to do so? You would be tempted to answer off the bat that it is never acceptable, but it is not so simple. We frequently torture and endanger animals for various reasons (food, medical experiments, sometimes even for entertainment), mostly because we consider that the well being of humans is more important than the well being of animals. Most people accept this, but some people object, and therefore disapprove of the consumption of animal products, of hunting, of using mice for medical testing.

    Now imagine the following scenario: In the future we have fully conscious AI, who truly experience pain, joy, etc. You might think it would be completely immoral to torture such an AI, but future psychologists tell you that they might find a way to cure various mental illness such as depression and schizophrenia using purely psychological methods (therapy, hypnosis). to do so, they need to test their therapies and methods on real cases, and they can't test it on human patients because they fear that the methods might have serious side effects. The only way they can test it is by using on fully developed AIs who have then been tortured to induce the various psychological disorders that need to be cured. Is it then acceptable to torture an AI or not?

  • 2
    A further angle is the Kantian approach to torturing animals, e.g. it's wrong because of what it trains us to be rather than what it does to them.
    – virmaior
    Oct 1 '17 at 3:54
  • In point one it seems you're assuming that an AI is 'simulating' emotional states. That language carries a presumption. You and I don't simulate emotional states. We have them as a consequence of our psychology. It shouldn't be taken as a given that conscious aspects of an AI are simulations. Perhaps they just are what they are. Oct 12 '17 at 17:48
  • @kbelder I am not assuming anything - that is just the tile of that post, as specified by the OP - see my response to the post for more details. Oct 12 '17 at 18:18

My problem with this question is that it implies that torturing humans is wrong. The problem with that is where do you draw the line?

Is it wrong to torture a terrorist who has hidden the safety key on a device that will kill millions of people if it's not found?

Is it wrong to smack a child who's just been found putting a pillow over the face of his baby sister?

These are not simple questions to answer and require more precision around the difference between torture, punishment, coercion and consequence. This is IMHO the fundamental paradox we have yet to address in the debate on human rights; the people who most benefit from these rules are the ones most willing to violate them. Still I digress...

Let's talk AI instead.

The single biggest misconception around AI is that the concepts of Awareness, Consiousness and Liveness are related. They're not. For the sake of brevity I'll not get into the details and semantics about this but computers aren't alive.

The next biggest misconception is that because a computer prints output on a screen that looks insightful, that the computer is itself insightful. This is largely based on the Turing Test, which is nothing more than a 'double-blind' experiment at its core. The real test of intelligence is not output, it's the thought processes that led to that output.

Finally (for the scope of this discussion at least) torture is not an intellectual activity. It's designed specifically to bypass reason and intellect, and emotion, and attack directly at the instincts of a person. The theory of this is to force a person to descend down the ladder of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to a point where the intellectual imperative to protect information or refuse to do something is overridden by the body's more immediate need for survival.

Computers just don't work that way.

I could get into the physiological aspects of this but it would be out of scope. The point is that a computer operates purely on what we would call the rational plane; even if it's aware, even if it's self-aware, even if it's conscious, it doesn't feel pain and it doesn't have a survival 'instinct' that torture would reduce it to in order achieve a sense of duress. In this sense, the question of whether or not torturing an AI is ethical is irrelevant because it can't actually be done.

Why I still think that interacting with an AI in a manner that would simulate torture is a bad idea has nothing to do with the AI and everything to do with the interrogator. This activity could serve to (especially among the lower orders) desensitise people to the torture of real people. If you believe that torturing people is unethical, then 'torturing' an AI must by extension be unethical as it can only serve to train a person to be more resistant to the moral discomfort that doing this to another human being generates within the interrogator.

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