Moral Status of Electronic/Digital People

Research directed to the whole brain emulation raises important issues about the possibility of AI reaching a state of consciousness. Whole brain emulation is an attempt to replicate the functionality of human brain in a software. This project might usher in dramatic new forms of intelligence. This is why it is likely that AI may also exhibit some form of consciousness. We are told that this might enable us to download our consciousness and live forever as electronic people/ digital people. Electronic people who won’t age and die do not mean that they would not suffer. They may suffer digital hacking and we may have new forms of totalitarian enslavement. Besides, we maybe enabled to have our own digital twin or digital doppelganger who will feel just like us, earn its own wages, own property and make its own decisions. If it is my clone, then it would claim my name because it is my digital twin and claim my memories and even my family. Therefore, it is important to discuss the moral status of electronic people. The arrival of electronic people is certainly an post-human event. It belongs to transhumanism that is coming in a future that seem to be already knocking at our doors. Hence, our quest for ethics from the locus of post-humanities is indeed timely and relevant.

To replicate the functionality of our brain, we have to understand the operation of our brain. We have above eighty five billion neurons and more than hundred trillion connection. It is these trillions of connection that makes us who we are, our personality, memories, our fears, our skills and our peculiarities. In order to encode our mind into a software, we have to simulate the vaste majority of the connections to the most subtle interaction. This level of simulation is imagined to be done by automated scanning process that might use supercharged MRI machine that captures the resolutions that approach the molecular level. Then it is thought that an intelligent software would turn that scanned results into a simulation of each unique brain cell and it thousands connections. This of course is complex and a very difficult task but we cannot deny that it can done. What we need is high scanning, computing and storing power which we are yet to develop. These developments do bring us to the issues of consciousness along with other issues like human life. The issue of both life and consciousness that are simulated are merely copies of human life and consciousness of the person who’s living brain is simulated. The original human being will still exist in his/her body and his/her brain will be housed in his/her skull. What will be than be existing in the computer is a digital twin/ clone or a doppelganger. The original person will not feel anything about the development of his/her digital twin. He / she will not feel that his/her brain is uploaded into a computer. Of course, the replication of the brain and its connections could be scanned without one being even aware ( as it might be done by sedating the person).

What is the moral status of the digital clone/ identical twin? . Ontologically, it is not a real me. It is just a copy of me. It seem that we have built another cave of Plato in its digital avatar. This is because our digital twin/ clone is destined to grow because of the machine learning in AI. Since there is no clairvoyant kind of communication between the original person and his or her digital copy, relying on the resources ( memories) of the original person, the digital person will develop its own memories. It will interact with other simulated persons in the simulated world or may also interact with other human persons and the physical world through robotic interfaces and learn new things, make decisions and acquire its own experiences. Therefore, although the digital clone is identical with the original, it so only in the instance of its origin. With the passage of time, it will diverge and become the other of the original person. Thus, the digital people/ electronic people will be all-together different people with different individuality from the original one. Our digital clones do have their importance in care giving when the original person is dead. The digital clone can enter into relations with the surviving partner of the original person. But when the original person is alive, his/her digital clone will be a serious competitor and can disrupt family life , business , religious life etc., of original person.

The issue about consciousness of our digital clone becomes a serious problem for us. We cannot deny its consciousness, freedom and even a form of life. But we do not share biological life and consciousness with them. We cannot think with our anthropocentric modes of thought. Under posthumanities, we have the challenge to accept a level of phenomenological consciousness and life that we seem to share with our digital clones. Hence, we cannot deny the moral status of this future electronic people/ digital people. Since, they make their own independent decisions, they are moral beings. The degree of their moral status is higher than other AI which only replicates human intelligence and some other abilities. Here, the digital people/ electronic people being cloned copies of real living human beings are to be considered morally responsible. Hence, their moral status is certainly high in degree. Are they as equal as humans when it comes to moral responsibility? It appears to be so as they have all the human attributes and act in freedom. But they can also outsmart human with passing time. Hence, perhaps, we need new modes of thinking ethics. We, need to develop this ethics from the perspectives of posthumanities so that both humans, transhumans and AI can exist in harmony.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao