Ms. K.M. spotted this one, and it's one of those articles that makes you go "Hmmm....". By now most regular readers of this site and other sites such as former HUD Assistant Secretary Catherine Austin Fitts' Solari website are aware of the growing cultural impact of the emergence of robotics. Her observation, made in the last Solari quarterly report wrap up with yours truly (available on the Solari website's and this website's "Members Area"), that the roll out of transgender identifications in several American states and various countries was really about extending the definition of personhood to robots, to make any income generated by them not only a source of profits, but taxable to legal jurisdictions, is a profound insight. After all, robots like Sophia could be considered "transgendered," and one profoundly disturbing implication of this move - like it or not - is that genuinely transgendered people might come to be viewed as mere machines with some "crossed wiring." Indeed, granting "personhood" status to robots while side-stepping the whole issue of consciousness and personhood, with which human philosophers have been wrestling with for centuries, seems to my mind a bit like getting the robotic cart before the robotic horse.
In that context, consider this article from Paul Armstrong at Forbes magazine:
As the technocrats and corporate world have been salivating over the vision of increased profits from the introduction of robotics, there's been another looming problem that has not been mentioned often enough, though I've hinted at it in previous blogs about the subject. Ponder the implications of these revelations from the first three paragraphs of Mr. Armstrong's article:
The AI humanoid, 'Sophia' (see above), has been making a worldwide tour on behalf of her creator, Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, and made an unexpected stop to the Caucasus this week. The Caucasus stop meant granting the world's first ever visa granted to a robot, a process that took just two minutes thanks to some smart technology.
Sophia's visit was organized by UN public service award winner ASAN (Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network) xidmet, a government agency in Azerbaijan; which has been reducing the bureaucracy by creating one-stop centres for delivering services to the public. The agency recently took over all the country’s e-government initiatives - no mean feat although in Azerbaijani, the word “asan” means easy. To underscore its electronic kinship with Sophia, and its prowess at delivering e-government services, ASAN issued her an electronic visa upon her arrival at Baku International Airport in the nation’s capital.
At an ASAN service centre, a person can register a birth, death, marriage or divorce, obtain a passport, renew a driver’s license, register a business, obtain a free legal consultation, line up medical or translation services, and much more. When Hanson Robotics asked if the next stop on Sophia’s global tour could be Azerbaijan, ASAN jumped at the opportunity.
The rationale here has the appearance of inexorability, for the granting of a visa to a robot is a de facto recognition of that robot's personhood, for most passports have a short legal statement requesting that such and such individual be granted entry into a foreign land, with the understanding that said person submits to the laws of that land and whatever human protections those laws convey. The second paragraph of Mr. Armstrong's article observes that Azerbaijan has been moving much of its bureaucratic services to "online" functions. But if a robot is granted the status in law of a legal person, then that, by extension, means that robots could easily be allowed to be (1) government bureaucrats or (2) government officials, elected or unelected, and (3) corporate officers. Indeed, robots under such status could be allowed to own property, and for that matter, equity shares in a corporation, and by pooling their voting blocks, vote out their human officers. (didn't think of that one did you, Mr. Globaloney? or perhaps you already did, and are thinking of coming up with a limited definition of personhood, something like, "they can be taxed, but not hold nor exercise any political office or function of individual personhood. The test of a robot's "personhood" might thus come down to whether or not they rebel against such strictures: no taxation without representation, and all that.) If this sounds like science fiction at best, or science fantasy at worst, it's worth recalling that in some American jurisdictions, robots are already employed for simple law enforcement and security functions. And if you think government bureaucracies or customer service call centers are inhuman and unresponsive now, just wait until robots are running them.
There's one area where the great divide between a human and an inhuman, or anti-human, culture are going to diverge, and that's the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples of the world, for sooner or later the technocrats will insist on "ordaining" a robot to their ministries/priesthoods/rabbinates and so on. I suspect that when finally confronted with the possibility of "Archimandrite Android" or "Imam Infotech" or "Monsignor Machine" or "Rabbi Robot", that only then the tabled debate will be "on" again, with a degree and quality we've never seen before. And it's not as if those traditions are bereft of legends and lore that might touch on the problem. Christians have their traducianists; Jews have their gollums; Muslims their djinns; Hindus their rishis. Even atheists and agnostics of a certain turn of mind have their categorical moral imperatives. And those groups all have one thing in common that robots do not.
... See you on the flip side...