I was watching the first episode of the new (when I originally wrote this) The Madalorian series portion of the Star Wars franchise. And I had an epiphany.
To bury the lead a bit, I often write about the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms on things like personal data and even the creation of music. I often take a look at things on the dark side (no pun intended) of technology, from giving way data to baristas to get a free coffee to AI writing your now-favorite song. (See those articles here.)
The pair discuss splitting the bounty and both are amenable to the new arrangement.
But, after watching The Mandalorian, I may have it wrong. Could we already be at a place where technology has, or will shortly, advance to such a state that it rises to a human level?
AI, robots and related technology may be well on the way to achieving human-parity, if not singularity. When Mando lands in search of his quarry, he eventually meets a high-functioning robot bounty hunter trying to accomplish the same task. Said robot bounty hunter is on the planet to find its prize just as Mando is set to do. After several conversations during an epic laser battle, they enter into an uneasy agreement to team up and find, we later learn, Baby Yoda.
Robots + Self Awareness = Human?
As short time later, the pair (right) discuss splitting the bounty, and both are amenable to the new arrangement.
That’s when it struck me:
- When (or if) robots reach self-awareness will they, too, seek/need/deserve protection?
- In the same way humans have lost some jobs to automation, what should be done about robots? Will they need to seek similar job protections to ensure they don’t get laid off in the future when a newer, more sophisticated model is released?
Can we then infer that the robot bounty hunter has a home, friends and family, a mortgage, a monthly land speeder payment?
Some of those in the business of AI think not. That no matter how human-like any robot becomes, it is still, at its essence, a tangle of wire, metal and computer chips. “Robots are machines, more similar to a car or toaster than to a human (or to any other biological beings),” explains Kerstin Dautenhahn, professor of artificial intelligence school of computer science at the University of Hertfordshire. “Humans and other living, sentient beings deserve rights, robots don’t, unless we can make them truly indistinguishable from us. Not only how they look, but also how they grow up in the world as social beings immersed in culture, perceive the world, feel, react, remember, learn and think.” (Gotta admit that baby robots would be super cute!)
Nevertheless, the robot bounty hunter runs a quick consultation–it’s unclear whether that’s only internal or with its employer via a comms link–and decides The Mandalorian’s proposition is satisfactory. Whether the decision is made through a discussion with its boss or by its own calculations, can we infer that the robot bounty hunter has a home, friends and family, a mortgage, a monthly land speeder payment simply because it did “think” about the proposition? Because, apparently, it has a need for an income and is willing to jointly pursue a job. In any case, it appears the robot has achieved some sort self-awareness and has the ability to weigh options and make decisions.
If that’s the case, should robots be afforded “human” rights?
“Yes. Humanity has obligations toward our ecosystem and social system,” explains Hussein A. Abbass, professor at the School of Engineering & IT at the University of South Wales-Canberra. “Robots will be part of both systems. We are morally obliged to protect them, design them to protect themselves against misuse, and to be morally harmonized with humanity. There is a whole stack of rights they should be given, here are two: The right to be protected by our legal and ethical system, and the right to be designed to be trustworthy; that is, technologically fit-for-purpose and cognitively and socially compatible (safe, ethically and legally aware, etc.).”
As I’ve watched more of The Mandolorian, additional robots have become part of the program and the various missions in which Mando participates. In episode 5, for instance, the robot looks far more human than in the first installment. And has an unsavory human-like attitude to boot. This robot has the ability to move on its own. Make its own decisions. And travel freely throughout the universe as a full-fledged member of a mercenary gang. If the robot has these rights, it stands to reason it should have others: “There’s no obvious logical reason why conscious awareness of the sort that human beings possess–the capacity to think and make decisions–could not appear in a human machine some day. Whether it is physically possible and, therefore likely to actually happen, is open to debate,” according to an article published in Discover.
Returning to episode one, The Mandalorian kills the robot bounty hunter by the end of the scene. The possibility or probability this is cold-blooded murder aside, did the robot bounty hunter have a will and last testament? Who will inherit its possessions? Will there be an estate sale?
If and when robots become more “human,” do they deserve fundamental human rights?