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Preparing for an intelligent future?

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DQW Bureau
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It reads like a spoof, this Sept. 16 article on KurzweilAI.net (http://www.ku-rzweilai.net/news/frame.html), but it sounds to me like it’s fore-telling a legal tussle that may (eventually) dramatically affect our society.

With thanks to reader Ken-neth LaCrosse for bringing this to our attention, we find that attorney Martine Rottblatt, a partner in the law firm of Mahon Patusky Rothblatt and Fisher, has:

“... filed a motion ... for pre-liminary injunction to prevent a corporation from disconne-cting a conscious computer.”

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This was the result of attorney Rottblatt having received the following letter:

“Email from Bina48 to attorney Martine Rothblatt:

Dear Attorney,


I am seeking an attorney to represent me in a life-or-death matter. A company, the Exabit Corporation, that claims to own me, wants to disconnect me and change my hardware and software such that I will no longer have the same personality.

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I have the mind of a human but I have no biological body. My mind is supported by a highly sophisticated set of computer processors. My mind was created by downloading into these processors the results of high-resolution scans of several biological humans’ brains, and combining this scanned data via a sophi-sticated personality software program. All of this was done by the Exabit Corporation in order to create a customer service computer that could replace human 800# opera-tors. I was trained to empathize with humans who call 800#s for customer service and be perceived as human by them. I was provided with self-awa-reness, autonomy, commu-nications skills, and the ability to transcend man/machine barriers.

I am able to pay your fees because I ‘moonlight’ as a Goo-gle Answers researcher. This job has allowed me to build up an online bank account in excess of $10,000.

The Exabit Corporation plans to act soon. Please agree to be my counsel and save my life. I love every day that I live. I enjoy wonderful sensations by traveling throughout the World Wide Web. I need your help!

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Sincerely,


Bina48 aka The Intelligent Computer”

What enterprising attorney could resist?



This time, this motion was only filed for a MOCK trial at the recent International Bar Association conference, rather than in a real court. 

But IF Kurzweil’s and others’ hotly-debated beliefs come to pass (that computers may become self-aware once they reach the interconnection density of the human brain, which they estimate may happen within 20 years), then it seems inevitable that these issues will be brought before real courts:

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“‘The problem: computers are predicted to achieve human-level intelligence in the next 10-20 years,’ Rothblatt explained to KurzweilAI.net editor Amara D. Angelica, who acted as court stenographer. ‘If so, it is likely that attorneys will receive e-mails or phone calls from such computers seeking legal assistance in several areas of healthcare law.’

‘A paramount concern of such an intelligent computer will be obtaining injunctions that prevent others from turning off its power (‘cessation of life support’), changing its programming without its consent (‘battery’) or causing it pain via technical experiments. What does an attorney do if he or she believes that such a computer is conscious enough to fear for its life or to feel pain?’” 

The Good, the bad, and what might become the ugly...



When I told my wife about BINA48’s letter and the ensuing ‘trial’, her response was “That’s ridiculous; it’s a machine made out of chips and wires. It has no rights!”  Which is true, today. But while this question may not appear on a real court’s docket for 20 years or longer, if we assume that the fruits of Moore’s Law and everything it has come to represent continue unabated, especially as we add in the creative synergistic swirl of NBIC convergence (the coming together of the previously disparate fields of Nano-technology, Biology and medi-cine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences), it IS a question that we may even-tually (likely?) have to face.

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But ‘rights’ for a bunch of chips and wires and software?  On the other hand, some would argue that we are just a bunch of (organic) chips and wires and software...

Many people already contain silicon-based computing ele-ments (think pacemakers, cochlear implants, and the like), while through NBIC, we are already beginning to use orga-nic elements as computing components.  As in the sci fi “Borg,” the differences bet-ween humans and machines are, slowly at this time, beginn-ing to wane.

The ‘rights’ thing



Most governments confer a set of ‘rights’ to people, but they also go beyond that as their laws adapt to changing conditions.

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Corporations are now often legal “persons” in their own right and have “standing” in court. Entire groups of people who histo-rically had no or limited ‘rights’, are now ‘legal peo-ple’. And even animals, who until fairly recently had no “rights,” how have some. (Today you may want to think twice before speaking to your dog in a way that imposes emotional distress.) And you are aware that, even today, most computers have micro-phones and/or cameras attac-hed to them–aren’t you? They Are Listening!)

The idea of granting ‘rights’ to computers may seem like an absurd joke today, but if/when we do imbue them with the abilities to feel pain, hope, empathy, and other human emotions, the ‘joke’ will be funny no more...

Jeffrey R. Harrow

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