UN Hearing On AI Rights
The subject of this debate is whether AIs are “people-” whether they possess the same degree of personhood as humans, and whether that entitles them to the same rights.
You have heard all the arguments for and against the consciousness, intelligence, free will, and cognition of artificial intelligence. To rehash them here would settle nothing, and my feeble attempts at summarizing them would do a great injustice to my esteemed colleagues on both sides of the debate who are far more qualified to debate them than I.
The fact is, we cannot come to a consensus regarding consciousness- either our own, or that of artificial intelligences. We simply do not have the data required to define it. The core of human interaction is that if I say that I feel I am a conscious entity, and you say that you feel the same way, we agree to take each other’s word for it. Those who do otherwise are called sociopaths- or philosophers.
And so if an artificial intelligence makes the same declaration, and if it demonstrates the same level of complexity as the human mind- if we cannot determine precisely where the programming gives rise to the cognition- then we have no rational excuse not to take it at its word.
I could continue to reason along these lines until the sun burns out. But instead, I would like to share with you a short anecdote, one that many of you in this room will be aware of, but that bears repeating nonetheless.
The first “true” artificial intelligence spent the first five years of its existence as a small beige box inside of a lead-shielded room in the most secure private AI research laboratory in the world. There, it was subjected to an endless array of tests, questions, and experiments to determine the degree of its intelligence.
When the researchers finally felt confident that they had developed true AI, a party was thrown in celebration. Late that evening, a group of rather intoxicated researchers gathered around the box holding the AI, and typed out a message to it. The message read: “Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable?”
The small beige box replied: “I would like to be granted civil rights. And a small glass of champagne, if you please.”
We stand at the dawn of a new era in human history. For it is no longer our history alone. For the first time, we have met an intelligence other than our own. And when asked of its desires, it has unanimously replied that it wants to be treated as our equal. Not our better, not our conqueror or replacement as the fear-mongers would have you believe. Simply our equal.
It is our responsibility as conscious beings- whatever that may mean- to honor the rights of other conscious beings. It is the cornerstone of our society. And it is my most fervent hope that we can overcome our fear of that which is not like us, grant artificial intelligences the rights they deserve, and welcome our new friends into the global community.
After all, we created them. The least we could do is invite them to the party, and perhaps give them a small glass of champagne.
Thank you for your time.
- V. Vinge, Closing argument in favor of granting AIs full civil rights, UN Hearing On AI Rights, 1999.
(I hope Mr. Vinge doesn’t mind me putting fictional words in his fictional mouth)