(urth) 5HC : Chinese boxes or tea chests?

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 1 23:08:01 PST 2005

Maru said:
>Suppose further that they made like a human, solving all
>technical problems, and an advanced alien civilization came by
>impressed by what they had done.  Would the aliens accord the robots
>'personhood' and would they be right or wrong?

You've stipulated they don't have "real consciousness", but the important 
unknown is: do the aliens have the ability to tell the difference, or if 
they are uncertain, do they have an estimate of probability for the robots 
having "real consciousness"?

For fun, a few possibilities:

Kantian deontological Martians - treat the robots as persons if there is 
even the tiniest finite chance of them being conscious, because any attempt 
to universally apply a maxim which treats a being with a finite chance of 
being a person as a non-person will eventually use at least one person as a 
means and thus violates the Categorical Imperative.

Utilitarian Neptunians - attempt to calculate the relative utilities of 
treating the robots as persons vs. taking advantage of them, weighted for 
relative probability that each is the case. If unable to accurately estimate 
the utilities, they spin around in a circle three times chanting "Do the 
done thing" and then ask the Martians what to do.

Hobbesian Plutonians - don't care whether the robots are persons or not. 
They treat the robots as persons because cooperation is to their advantage.

Venusian virtue-ethicists - treat the robots as persons even if they know 
they're not conscious, because it reinforces their virtue of humane 

Mercurial relativists - Well, do the robots consider *themselves* persons? 
You have to respect the robots' position on the matter. Unless, of course, 
the current culture on Mercury has developed anti-robot values, in which 
case who could blame them for destroying or enslaving the robots? Or, 
alternately, the more class-conscious Marxists among them elevate them as 
the ultimate expression of the proletariat and elect the robots to be their 
leaders. But they might change their minds later. Or do all of the above, 
because after all there are no wrong answers.

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