What started eight years ago as a short story about a man who falls in love with a sentient hologram has become a passion of mine. That story, “Love With The Proper Hologram”, ultimately became a novel—one that I pitched by asking the following question:
“What rights will our intelligent creations have…”
What rights indeed? Sorry to say, after six stories and two novels, I don’t have the answer. What I do have, is the certainty that unless we address the subject in advance, tragedy is sure to befall us. Imagine, sentient beings, “people” who think and feel as we do, at the mercy of anyone with the means to pay for them.
Surely, that would be a fairly small cohort—right? Think again. Picture a mass produced neural array, one that could fit in a shoe box, selling for under $1000. Now picture it connected to a 3-D or holographic home entertainment system, selling for under $2,000, and the problem becomes clear. Virtually anybody could own one, the result: a new slavery.
As a descendent of the West African slave trade, I must confess to being particularly sensitive about this. The very thought that my descendents, even four or five generations removed, might become the new slave masters is appalling. Yet I know of no way to avoid that eventuality. Technology is almost certain to bring us sentient beings, and we, just as surely, seemed destined to treat them as devices, commodities.
Strangely, my libertarian instinct balks at the idea of government intervention, i.e. new laws. How would they define sentience? Might it be defined so broadly as to restrict the ownership of “smart” devices, the latest computers, etc? Would such laws even be constitutional, or would we require an amendment to prohibit such sales – a new 13th amendment?
Assuming private ownership could be outlawed, would the scientific community stand still for laws prohibiting the research that would ultimately lead to the development of these beings? Even if such laws were passed, how would they be enforced? The answer, quite simply, is not very well, if at all. Such research will take place regardless of the government’s attempt to suppress it. Eventually man made sentient beings will live amongst us, and we’ll be forced to answer the question in my pitch: what rights will they have?
Hopefully, the speculation contained in the second half of that pitch: “…or will they have none at all.” won’t come to fruition. For that way lies madness, and if we are to avoid it, perhaps we should start thinking seriously about this subject, now.
About the Author:
Having written a prodigious amount of technical documentation as a computer programmer, systems analyst and industrial automation engineer, Samuel King began to write fiction in 2003. He is currently working on the final novel of the Symbiosis series: East of the Sun and West of the Moon.