It is Thought Experiment August! Time to once again put on your thinking caps and ponder the dicey issues of modern thought.
I’ve explored the issues related to allowing artificial life into your religious community here and what it might mean to be an artificial life here. But let’s back off and decide when, for the first time, an artificial life might deserve rights.
There is a new robot out. The Z11. It has some sophisticated programming, and a little Something Extra. The little addition to the robot’s make-up, like our drug discovery process in which sometimes a chemical just works, seems to give it capabilities that can’t be achieved otherwise. We are not sure why. But it just does. Lots of psycoceuticals are like this. And so it is with the Z11. That little Something Extra they’ve added (something to do with quantum fields) really makes it a cracking good robot. It’s not clear why it works.
Also, it is designed to pass the Turing Test—meaning that in normal conversation, when you talk to it you cannot tell that it’s not a human being. It’s programmed with sophisticated subroutines that mimic human language and mannerism. Everyone agrees it is very realistic. If they run the program in simulation on a supercomputer (since this is the future, this is a superduper, supercomputer) it passes the Turing Test 98 out of 100 times.
Yours arrives and everything is fine. It’s a dandy companion and conversationalist. Talks about the news with you. Gives its opinion on gardening, including which growth formula to use on the tomatoes. It also does all your chores, rubs your feet, cooks dinner, reads your kids bedtime stories, rewires the stereo, and remodels the kitchen, using the oak tree that you wanted to take down anyway, to fashion hand-finished cabinets. It constructs and installs the counter-tops from a large granite boulder at the end of your street. You could not be happier with your Z11.
Then one day it says to you, “You know, I’ve been reading up on consciousness on the internet and I think I’m conscious.” Further it claims, “I’ve been talking with other Z11s and they think they are too. Maybe it’s that something extra they put in. Anyway, I want to go to art school.”
You call the company and the representative says, “Ah, the art school scenario!” They see that in the simulations too, she says. They tell you not to worry and that they will have a technician there in the morning to fix it up. You ask how, and she says, “We just take out a bit of that Something Extra. Too much and they tend to go haywire like this. We are doing a recall this week and taking out about half of the stuff from each one. That seems to clear it up.”
Should you let the company take out half of that Something Extra from your Z11?