Re: PHIL: Is it ethical to create special purpose sentients?
Mon, 1 Mar 1999 09:30:00 -0800

Glen Finney (no relation!) writes:
> Thought I would throw this question out. Is it ethical to create
> specially designed sentient beings which would be engineered to do specific
> tasks? Would it be ethical for their creators to profit from the labor of
> their creations? Esentially, we're talking about the possibility of a perfect
> slave caste, willing and able to serve general purpose sentients (like us) in
> whatever capacity we design them to. What do you all think?

I'll take a different position on this than other responders.

I see the posthuman as having a more complex mental structure than we do today. I envision it having multiple parts, with different degrees of autonomy, independence, and intelligence. Some parts of the mind will have human or sub-human level intelligence, others will be superhuman. Parts may be relatively independent of the rest, or they may be tightly integrated, or there may be periods of independence followed by periods of integration.

This architecture extends the power of the posthuman mind without requiring the costly communications and coordination infrastructure that would be necessary to bind all parts of the posthuman mind as tightly as our own mental structure. The posthuman manipulates the world through a small army of agents, all part of it in some sense, all controlled by it, but at least some of the time working independently.

We already see some aspects of this in the world today. Our own minds can be seen as being composed of multiple parts, working together (usually) as a whole, as in Minsky's "Society of Mind" model. Other models see the mind as having layers, with the older reptilian mind being overlayed and controlled by the newer mammalian cortex. Our old instincts are subsumed and guided to meet the needs of the new master. In a sense there is still a reptile in there, but its goal structure is now manipulated to higher ends.

We also see the beginnings of the "corporate individual." People in the public eye are often, in truth, collectives. The politician that people see is just the "talent", the handsome face and warm voice which is presented to the world. Behind the scenes are the organizers, the policy people, the negotiators. All work together, tightly coupled, to create the effect of a single, super-competent individual. I would expect a similar structure to evolve in the case of a posthuman. Different mental parts will have different specialties.

The tool must fit the job. This maxim applies to minds as well as objects. When constructing or extending our posthuman mental architecture, there is no need to provide super-human intelligence to all of the agents which will carry out our will. If we give some of them only human intelligence, I see no ethical flaws in that, any more than our own mentality is ethically flawed in delegating tasks to spinal cord neural structures which themseles have no hope of advancing to a higher state.

This may not be the only possible posthuman mental structure. But I see it as a plausible approach, a balance between expensive centralized control systems and disorganized collections of autonomous agents.
>From one perspective, it is human slavery. But from another point of
view, it is a single individual whose mental parts have a degree of independence. I hesitate to call this organizational structure immoral.