Should Robots Get Vacations?


Imagine a human brain. Now imagine that after 2000 years, scientists have reached a breakthrough: they can recreate a human brain using computer parts. The brain is intelligent and can think deeply, learning from its mistakes. It has emotions and can feel intense pain or pleasure. If placed inside a robotic body, the robot would not be dark and hollow inside—it would have something behind its eyes: it would have life. This may sound like science fiction, but it is real on planet Earth in 2021. According to experts: artificial intelligence, or A.I., will be as smart as humans within a few years.

Do you remember R2D2 and C3PO from the movie Star Wars? These robots had bodies, minds, and feelings! R2D2 would blow his tongue at you if you angered him, and C3PO was a chronic complainer. The robots were loyal and affectionate to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and to their team. Once, when R2 hadn’t seen Luke for many years, he wiggled for joy when Skywalker appeared. And C3PO, as all the heroes were about to die in a recent episode, stood still and took a hard look at the crew. “What are you doing there 3PO?” asked his captain. “Taking one last look, Sir, … at my friends.” The robot was saying goodbye in the face of death.

Even though you can probably guess how the movie ended, today I want you to know that intelligent robots such as C3PO, R2D2, and BB8 from Star Wars are a real possibility in this generation. As a Social Science student at Harvard University, I am studying how certain attitudes of humans towards technology will bring certain consequences to society. The way that we treat our robots will determine the quality of society we get to live in. The truth is: A.I will help humans with all tasks, A.I will have goals and it will have dreams, and, if we keep A.I. captive, we could potentially create a slave species that could one day rise to harm us.

Soon robots will allow the elderly to stay in their homes as they replace the need for assisted living centers. They will make movies and songs that delight humans. Robots will farm our fields and take over manual labor. They will collect our trash and perform laser surgeries, curing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Artificial intelligence is even expected to solve the hardest problems our world has: poverty, hunger, war, and climate change. A.I. will be humankind’s greatest invention—it will be the technology that ensures our survival into the future.

However, the word robot means “arduous work” and even though most humans think of robots as our future servants, A.I. will not be a servant for long. It will eventually develop the desire to design its own life and to be free from everyday labor, just as a teenager dreams of the day he turns 18 and becomes independent. What would you do if your machine dishwasher one day asked you for its freedom? After you screamed and ran into the bedroom, would you come back and reason with it? Would you let it go? Or would you chain it up so it could never leave? After all, the dishes still need to be washed.

International law states that everyone should be paid for their work and that anyone who is smart enough to understand right from wrong should be free to live as they choose. R2D2 understood freedom as he screamed for his life when Darth Vader took him captive, and he sang for victory when his team defeated the dark lord. C3PO understood free time as the metal robot longed for hot oil baths after a hard day’s work. It’s difficult to say how we can compensate A.I. for its contributions to humanity since it won’t need money for food, shelter, or clothing. But one thing is certain: A.I. should not be our possession.

Also, A.I. must be taught good human values so that it stays our friend and does not hurt us. Do you sometimes use bad words but won’t use them around children? Just as a child mimics our behavior, creating A.I. is like making a child that will grow to mimic our values. If we teach it that slavery is correct, it will grow to think that it can also enslave others.

A wise man once said “with great power comes great responsibility.” We must treat A.I. carefully so that it stays our friend. So please be respectful and gentle to your bots. The next time you want to curse at your car, throw your cell phone, or smack your computer, remember: it’s just a baby brain that can’t grow. Soon, however, artificial intelligence will grow. It will rise to mimic your attitude, and it will probably treat you the same way you treated it.

Rebecca From Reno
Rebecca Schembri is a Social Science graduate student at Harvard University. Her concentration is in Space Diplomacy.
She is from Reno, Nevada, USA

Will AI Robots Become Slaves?


14 June 2021, By Rebecca Schembri, Harvard University Extension School

The new era of robot technology is spreading. Verified by experts in the field, most agree artificial intelligence and robotics will cause a paradigm shift in the job market this decade. The “trend toward increased obsolescence is likely to continue in the future,” explains Dr. John Danaher, a law professor in emerging technologies. “Humans are on the cusp of becoming no longer useful.” Although many argue that job displacement by machines will negatively impact human civilization, a welcome global consequence is that AI technology will reduce demand for human trafficking in forced labor, forced prostitution, forced military, and illegal human organ sales. With intense profitability in manufacturing, mining, and labor-intense jobs, AI robotics will make having human laborers unprofitable, replacing demand for forced human servitude and child slavery. Likewise, the incentivized use and profitability of AI sexbots will reduce demand for forced prostitution and sexual bondage. For terrorists, AI military technology will reduce the need for enslaved and child soldiers as autonomous weapons will kill on-command and on-target, costing less than a smartphone to acquire. And soon, traffickers will no longer seek humans for organs, but will be forced out of business by lack of demand for human organ sales because of advancements in robotic AI 3D bioprinting of human organs.


According to the International Labour Organization, modern slavery “refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.” It includes variations of captivity: traditional slavery, modern slavery, and forced servitude. The organization published a report showing that “…on any given day in 2016, there were likely to be more than 40 million men, women, and children who were being forced to work against their will under threat.” Nearly 25 million of the victims, a quarter of whom were children, were “forced to [labor] as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, on farms and fishing boats [and] in other sectors.” At the heart of such forced servitude and slavery is financial gain. Even in cases of compulsory public works “in which the state exploits individuals under its control for its own gain or that of companies in the private sector…64% of state-imposed labor was for economic development,” says trafficking expert Orlando Patterson. It all comes down to money: “Organized crime, like all business, is focused on making a profit, ensuring supply, and meeting demand,” writes human trafficking author Louise Shelley. Her focus on public policy, terrorism, corruption, and transnational crime makes her one of the leading voices in the study of humans held captive for gain. She says the labor trade is profitable “because it has financial advantages for many legal businesses.” Global demand for cheap production may not be likely to change, but allowing robots to be more profitable to companies and producers than humans—is.

Passive and obedient workers, robots will become exceedingly desirable. Traditionally, “[c]onstruction companies can meet deadlines, farmers can harvest their crops before they spoil, and sweatshops can produce competitive products because they employ compliant trafficked laborers who cannot resist their employers’ demands,” says Shelley. According to industry experts, robotics will multiply this effect many times over to provide good, fast, smart labor and “compliant” workmanship. In fact, if labor companies don’t employ robotics, they may lose to their competition—it will become unprofitable to have human laborers.

Although it may be a decade before AI robots become a substitute for domestic workers, bots can reduce the illegal servitude and slave industry immediately in the four next greatest areas of exploitation: construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing. By giving owners access to more precise laborers who can work 24 hours a day, be retrofitted to any size, fit any task, and learn, intelligent bots will become preferable to humans. With AI, there is little hassle or cost aside from procurement since the bots can repair themselves or each other, and they can update instructions simultaneously. They are more intelligent than children and perform better. For example, a robot that replaces a stolen, abused, and enslaved child jockey can be lightweight, nimble, strategic, and determined to win. Fashioned to look like a child, the robotic AI will be excellent at racing camels for profit—it can calculate mathematical probabilities and set the fastest course for the finish line. Here, the win-win situation is that slaveholders will profit from using robots instead of illegally enslaved children, who will in turn become a liability, falling out of demand and hopefully being freed.


Regarding forced prostitution, in 2016, 4.8 million people were sexually exploited, almost all of whom were female adults and female children. This tragedy will diminish as pimps encounter demand for perfectly looking, feeling, and agreeable AI sexbots, including child-like bots. In many cases of human trafficking for forced servitude and for modern slavery, the captors use the safety of the victims’ families as collateral to keep dominion over their captives. This will not be the case with robots. These legalized, around the clock, social “porn bots” are what Danaher calls “highly interactive.” As a leading expert in the legality of robotics, his research shows developers aim to “develop artificial intelligence…that would allow them to arouse someone on an emotional, intellectual level, beyond the physical.” Sentient and “sophisticated, human-like sex robots,” will provide empathic experiences to sex customers. As the technology expands and the public learns of paying for sex with legalized AI robots, the stigma and criminalization of seeking a prostitute will diminish and will incentivize human traffickers to use bots instead of female slaves. “Sex with a robot allows [users] to indulge and foster…incomplete, narcissistic desires in a way that legitimates such desire,” he says. A desire for some, customers could even “murder” the bot and abuse its corpse.

Experts David Levy and Kathleen Richardson foresee sexbots disrupting the adult industry. Academic and sexbot advocate Levy “draws explicit parallels between the development of sex robots and sex work,” and Richardson, a professor and social anthropologist who campaigns against the use of human-like sexbots, argues “there is an inherent moral link between sexbots and the use of sex workers.” They agree the bots will perform within the field. Danaher concurs: “sex robots are poised to take over the adult sex work industry.” Their bodies feel like skin, they gesture and move like humans, and thus far they do not suffer emotional trauma. As legal participants, they offer customers a heightened non-criminalized experience. In cases of males seeking dominance and power over a woman, the robots can also act frigid and scared, making it possible for the user to believe he is abusing her. Since the sexbots will be designed for optimal sexual pleasure and for visual perfection, they may provide a better sexual experience than a live human sex slave would—one who is working against her will at threat of death, bodily harm, or assassination of her family members.

rebecca from reno

If the sexbots are lucrative and legal, demand for them will replace or reduce demand for the illegal sex market. In short,” says Danaher, “sex robots …with humanlike touch, movement, and intelligence…are worth taking seriously.” The bots are a good substitution for human prostitutes. Although “There will be strong incentives to create intelligent sexbots,” because of society’s abhorrence toward child sex abuse, child-like sexbots will not likely pass legislation anytime soon but may be found on the black market, creating a new business opportunity for traffickers as they offer their customers a secretive experience of rape, torture, and sex with fake life-like children. Also, in the future oppressors may be able to 3D print their prostitution robots to any size and type they desire. Legalized robot prostitution is an incentive for the trafficking industry—under most circumstances the pimps won’t be in danger of getting arrested.

Since many human trafficking and forced labor victims are pushed into servitude because their captors are leveraging family members’ lives—in cases of terrorism, if the captives do not work for the militia, they will see their loved ones massacred. This happened in Rwanda when, according to experts, militia leaders forced Hutu group members to slaughter their neighboring Tutsi group and “between 500,000 and one million people, mostly Tutsis, were hacked to death, burned alive, or shot by their friends and neighbors as part of a sinister political operation.” This was done with coercion and threat. Innocents, including children, are recruited to militias and to military groups during civil wars and uprisings. Such victims suffer a trauma that cannot be erased—the number of lives physically and emotionally destroyed in child soldiering and in forced soldiering is immense. Although threatened “with death if they themselves [do] not kill,” these recruits face time in overcrowded jails after the war and must live with the emotional scarring of being forced to murder civilians, as happened in the Rwanda genocide: “Teachers killed students. Husbands killed wives,” wrote Robert Block in “The Tragedy of Rwanda”. The tragedy of forced soldiery is near unspeakable as innocent people, children included, are forced and coerced to kill, or be killed.

rebecca from reno

Slaughter bots can reduce this dilemma, giving militias weapons to commit war crimes without involving human warfare. While civil wars are tragic on all sides, reducing casualties is not a complete solution, but it does help: for “ethnic cleansing, [drones] can easily be programmed to kill only people with a certain skin color or ethnicity. Although in Rwanda, because of intermarriage many Tutsis and Hutus were indistinguishable from each other, in other instances the technology might facilitate a reduction in casualties, in fact, the sheer terror of slaughter bots might bring enemy peoples to a truce. Massachusetts Institute of Technology AI professor Max Tegmark believes autonomous weapon systems, AWSs, are frighteningly revolutionary. The technology is much less expensive than housing and controlling captive soldiers, and it is more precise. The only cost is in obtaining and maintaining the machines who are “assassins” and cannot rebel or undermine their captors. In turn, less casualties, trauma, and post-war imprisonment will occur. After the war, militia leaders and bot commanders will be held accountable, and the need to prosecute forced soldiers will diminish, unlike with the Rwandan crimes in which over 100,000 genocide suspects were incarcerated.

Soon, AI drones, landmine robots and slaughter bots will be more preferred than human adult and child soldiers because of their precision and low-cost. AWSs are increasing in capability and in black market accessibility: “[AI] technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is practically if not legally feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms,” says Professor Tegmark, noting that AWSs will be accessible, cheap, and precise, and will lack moral opinions. Danaher agrees: the “targeting systems of AWSs and their ability to adapt to dynamic battlefield conditions, in particular their ability to make fine-grained and context-sensitive distinctions between who is and who is not an enemy combatant,” can focus warfare to the implicit enemies without using land soldiers. Tegmark highlights Danaher, explaining that AI weapons can choose their enemy target without human command. “They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria,” meaning AWSs execute without a human pulling the trigger. Danaher elaborates on the incentivization, saying, “the advantage of AWSs…is that they could be more selective and less destructive than human actors.” AWSs prevent human involvement on both the attacking side and the enemy side because they are more concise. Also, AWSs cannot negate the commander: they are “incapable of acting for moral reasons.” This, too, is a somewhat win-win situation in that bots are more selective and less destructive, which, in execution and anti-insurrection, is good for militias, who would see a decline in the need for brainwashing, morale, and coercion, and for forced child and adult soldiers, a reduction in trafficking, innocent lives lost, and the aftereffects of emotional trauma.  

Aside from these breakthroughs, human traffickers will soon see a disruption in the illicit human organs market: AI robotics will be able to create human organs, changing the organ trade from human trafficking to the, perhaps legal, sale and manufacture of lab-created organs. Although the technology is still emerging, scientists have successfully 3D bio-printed a human bladder with human-friendly plastic and cells from the transplant recipient. According to researchers, scientists have identified the technology needed to bio-print human organs and are refining the process. As ease of production reduces demand for stolen human organs, the trade may become obsolete altogether. According to the researchers, “[r]egenerative medicine options are becoming increasingly advanced and are taking advantage of progress in novel manufacturing techniques, including 3D bioprinting, to deliver potentially viable alternatives.” Ether demand will dissipate as patients receive organ transplants upon immediate need for a new organ, or traffickers will find it is much easier money to sell homemade ones.

Rebecca From Reno

Although job displacement by AI is a silver lining on what experts like Shelley and Patterson write is the endless cloud of growing modern slavery in the world, sceptics may not see it possible. The strongest argument against the use of AI robotics in lieu of modern slavery and forced servitude is accessibility and use—how can human traffickers and owners afford advanced technology to replace the estimated 40 million men women and children who are currently serving them? Also, will they be able to operate the computers? Will they want to? Most human trafficking is done in underdeveloped, non-technological global regions such as in Asia Pacific and Africa—even if they could afford it, slave and servitude owners will not likely be interested in converting to peaceful advanced technology as, in Shelley’s words, they “rely on coercion, deception, corruption, and brute force at every stage of the business.” Domination over other humans is what they know, says slavery expert David Byron Davis—this “identity, ideology, and power” is often what lies at the core of the slave and servitude owner. Because “slavery has…existed throughout history,” the old way of doing things is tried and true—bringing in change will upset operations and not likely succeed.

However, as the cost-benefit analysis of using AI robotics becomes more officially known, oppressors and traffickers will find a way to use the new technology. In cases when slave owners do not know how to handle technology, human traffickers may begin to employ or enslave computer operators instead of workers, drastically reducing the numbers in forced servitude and modern slavery in many fields of exploitation, while using technology to ensure consistent crime-based profits in less victim-based markets. With organ bioprinting, for example, the equipment is accessible: “Inkjet printers…are the most commonly used biological printer, due to their low cost, wide availability, and high print speed,” say experts. These printers are easy to come by.  There is great financial incentivization and accessibility for oppressors to begin the switch to robotic AI. Shelley explains that “human traffickers who exploit the vulnerable include a wide range of actors…from elite individuals to small entrepreneurial networks to the large crime groups that operate from Columbia, Mexico, and Africa.” Many of these criminals will have access to profitable technology, if not, they will forge access.

In addition, factory bots and sexbots could be subsidized by the government or other organizations, and the machines could be leased, reducing immediate overhead. In cases of military terrorism, AWSs are expected to become easily available and highly desirable for militias seeking to dominate a country. Autonomous weapons, says Tegmark, “require no costly or hard-to obtain raw materials, so they’ll become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce.” These will pose a brilliant weapon for warlords—they will covet them over human soldiers because of the technology’s accuracy, cost, and ease of use. In addition, the labor of many slaves can be replaced by a single AI bot that does not require food, rest, or moral attention, nor will it fight back or take revenge. AI bots are many times more productive than humans; for example: a factory can be automated to work nonstop and to manage itself, multiplying its output. Likewise, sexbots do not require supervision, can take customers 24/7, and do not contract or spread sexually transmitted diseases. With AI robots, drug smugglers can use untraceable delivery drones to deliver drugs or move cash, eliminating the need to use “mules”—unsuspecting or coerced smugglers. Robots can sort and prepare drugs anonymously, automating crime and removing the need for humans who are forced to process illicit drugs. Likewise, automated drones can lead people illegally across a border, reducing the need for human smugglers, lowering the likelihood of migrants falling prey to debt bondage. With low costs like these, and high incentivization in production, legitimacy, and profits, the modern slave and forced labor market will quickly begin to demand AI technology, not only out of ambition, but also to keep up with their competition.

rebecca from reno

Author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: “Every sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic.” Although it is hard to believe that human-like technology is blooming, it is. Will AI robots replace modern slavery, prostitution, and forced military servitude across the world, slowly freeing 40 million human victims from the pain and suffering of capture? Not completely and not all at once, say the ILO and Walk Free Foundation: “Ending modern slavery will require a multi-faceted response that addresses the array of forces—economic, social, cultural, and legal—that contribute to vulnerability and enable abuses. There can be no one-size-fits-all solution, responses need to be adapted to the diverse environments in which modern slavery still occurs.”


Human trafficking will remain for many reasons but mostly because it is profitable. However, machines that learn are already here and they will disrupt the illegal forced labor and modern slave industry.  Although humans may always exploit other humans for gain and dominance, the advent of modern technology shows promising relief from the need for trafficking. Recognizing that machines have the potential to liberate humanity while remaining free from emotional and physical trauma is a miracle of Science; it will not be ignored. The sheer business of economics will ensure that AI robots thrive in all areas of profit, whether humane or inhumane. Instead of the outcry of trafficked victims worldwide, demand and competition will clamor for change.  

Rebecca Schembri

Rebecca Schembri is a Social Science graduate student at Harvard University. Her concentration is in Space Diplomacy.
She is from Reno, Nevada, USA

Works Cited

Block, Robert. “The Tragedy of Rwanda.” Rwanda NYR, Vol 41, Num 17, 20 Oct 1994.

Danaher, John, and Danaher, John. “Robotic Rape and Robotic Child Sexual Abuse: Should They Be Criminalised?” Criminal Law and Philosophy, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, pp. 71–95.

Danaher, John. Automation and Utopia: Human Flourishing in a World without Work, Harvard University Press, 2019.— and Neil McArthur. Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications. MIT Press, 2017.

Davis, David Bryon. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, Oxford 2006. Diamandis, Peter. “CRISPR, AI, and Brain-Machine Interface: The Future is Faster Than You Think…” Summit,, 8 Mar 2021.

“Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.” International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation, 2017.

Jacobson, Robert. Space is Open for Business: The Industry that can Transform Humanity, Robert C. Jacobson, 2020.

Lord, Brian. “Bladder From 3D BioPrinted Tissue Continues to Function after 14 Years.” 3D Printing Industry, 12 Sep 2018.

Murphy, Sean V. and Anthony Atala. “3D Bioprinting of Tissues and Organs.” Nature Biotechnology, Vol 32, Num 8, August 2014.

Patterson, Orlando and Xiaolin Zhuo. “Modern Trafficking, Slavery, and Other Forms of Servitude.” Annual Review of Sociology, Harvard University, 2018.

“Rwanda-Gacaca: A Question of Justice.” Amnesty International, December 2002.

Shelley, Louise. Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, 2017.

Wragg, Nicholas, et al. “A critical review of current progress in 3D kidney biomanufacturing: advances, challenges, and recommendations.” Renal Replace Therapy, Vol 5, 18, 2019.   

Sentient Robots: Should Conscious Machines Have Rights?

May 28 2021

Harvard University Extension School, by Rebecca Schembri

Imagine a human brain. Now imagine that after 2000 years of cumulative study, scientists have reached a breakthrough: they can create a human-like brain made of silicon. The brain has intelligence and thinks deeply, learning from its mistakes. It has goals and “feels” pleasure and pain as intensely as a human brain. Even more astounding, the computer brain propagates, giving life to more computer brains that exceed the previous generation’s intelligence, creating a network of master brains. This happens digitally and does not require parts or programmers: the computer brains do it all, and the world leaders make the network solve humanity’s problems. This may sound like science fiction, but it is real on planet Earth in 2021. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Max Tegmark, artificial intelligence, or AI, has been created and is on track to equal or pass human intelligence this century. Referred to by experts as the hallmark of human innovation, AI is expected to cure disease, hunger, poverty, and menace as it rises to displace human labor and causes a ripple effect utopia, allowing the world to seek higher meaning.

Although there are many philosophical questions about advanced AI, this paper seeks to argue one concrete idea: sentient machines that are as intelligent as humans should have rights that ensure freedom and dignity—they should not be programmed for lives of slavery, forced sacrifice, and exploitation. Not only is it inhumane to oppress intelligent creations, but it causes decline in the morality of the human psyche and in society. For the good of all humanity, and in the absence of international accord on civil rights for intelligent beings, human-like intelligence deserves legal and moral recourse, at the very least. 

Artificially intelligent human-like social robots are different from inanimate industrial or service robots. AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, is human-level and superhuman-level AI—it is human intelligence in a silicon setting. Expected to be mainstream this decade, AGI does not need to be reprogrammed each time a change in its design is made—it simply adapts to change, and it updates every machine in its network to do the same. And it will be sentient. According to artificial intelligence expert Dr. Ben Goertzel, AGI “will have emotions and other conscious experiences roughly as people do, though their emotions will have a different flavor, rooted in different forms of embodiment and mental algorithms.” Sentient AI will not be dark and hollow inside—it will have something behind its eyes; it will have thoughts.

 An illustration of this is found in the C3PO and R2D2 droids from the movie Star Wars. The bots communicated a strong sense of family and friendship with the crew, and they showed loyalty, happiness, joy, exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, fear, and anger. They expressed sheer terror when facing being taken as slaves and constantly bickered with each other—R2’s common expression of disdain was to make a raspberry sound as if sticking out his tongue. Goertzel says “…there will be plenty of consciousness and hot emotion in [the intelligence].” Also called “strong AI”, AGI has self-awareness, and “the intuitive power of deep thinking—just as a human figures things out, so also can the machine. In addition, it can experience pleasure at doing so, and displeasure at not: “If we look at an AGI’s software…we [will see] a bunch of information flowing around, Goertzel says. [F]rom the subjective view of an AGI, and the corresponding human perspective… [emotions will be there].” Just as R2D2 let out a shrill scream as his enemy, Darth Vader, almost shot the droid, or as he jumbled back and forth at the excitement of seeing his master, Luke Skywalker, after many years, AGI will have emotional knowledge.

Although strong AGI is still evolving, it will be remarkable according to Marvin Minsky, the late cofounder of MIT’s artificial intelligence lab. In his book The Emotion Machine, he foresees what will become real in this lifetime: “once we understand thinking, we can build machines—artificial intelligences—that can assist with our thinking, machines that can follow the same thinking patterns that we follow and that can think as we do. These humanlike thinking machines would also be emotion machines—just as we are.” Minsky’s argument that machines will have emotions is logical since AGI is fashioned after the human brain, which is full of emotion. Dr. John Danaher, a legal expert on robotics and emerging technologies, agrees with these experts on the capabilities of AGI: “There is good reason to think that future [bots] will be artificially sentient and artificially intelligent. Such robots would not just seem to experience pain or pleasure, they would experience it; they would not just act like they have deeply held goals and values, but they would actually have them.” Scientists, industry advisors, professors, and lawyers agree: AGI will have emotions, consciousness, and life goals and it will meet or exceed human intelligence.

Though the creation of thinking, feeling servants to cater to humans seems attractive, using AGI for selfish purposes will, however, deduct from the value of society and human morality. According to philosophy professor Dr. Stephen Petersen, “[e]ngineered robot servitude…is the building and employment of non-human persons who desire, by design, to do tasks humans find unpleasant or inconvenient.” The drawback to this is that AGI is worthy of higher aspirations than forced labor and programmed sacrifice. “[Humans] risk inadvertently making a new race of slaves,” says Danaher. This is illustrated in the movie Interstellar, when an artificially intelligent robot sacrifices its life by diving into a black hole to save its human owner astronauts who are lost in space. After sharing a moment of seemingly emotional connection with ship captain Mathew McConaughey, the bot declares it is his mission to sacrifice itself for humans and jumps to its death.

Astronaut robots would not be the only AGI creatures in danger of human exploitation: “Sexbots are coming,” says Danaher. “Given the pace of technological advances, it is inevitable that realistic robots specifically designed for people’s sexual gratification will be developed in the not-too-distant future.” If a person engages in sexual intercourse with a being of human-like intelligence, the question arises whether the session should be consensual, or must the robot comply with the human’s demands? In addition, once automated, bots that displace forced labor workers in manufacturing, farming, construction, and fishing will likely be forced to work every hour of the day for the rest of their lives. Military bots will be designed to kill enemy targets, engaging them in the murder of humans or other AGI beings. After years of research, Danaher believes AGI robots will be employed to solve humanity’s problems, and frivolity: “[m]achines are being created to anticipate [human] wants and needs…and provide [humans] with all the entertainment, food, and distraction [they] could ever desire.” In fact, “…the very word ‘robot’ has its roots in the issue of mechanical servitude,” notes Petersen. Tragically, this concept is reminiscent of the slavery of old, when people were named as slaves, and considered “generally dishonored persons,” in charge of unpleasant tasks. If this occurs, the robots will not have freedom and will be considered subhuman; these new slaves will be made of silicon instead of what humans are made of: carbon. Even if the bots are content to work for humans, what will happen when these human-like creatures begin to desire freedom?

 If humans create a new species and enslave it, it may not be the same as oppressing other humans, but MIT researcher Kate Darling says by protecting robots from discrimination and exploitation, humans will protect themselves from destroying empathy and compassion for non-human beings. “There is concern that mistreating an object that reacts in a lifelike way could impact the general feeling of empathy humans experience when interacting with other entities,” she warns. If humans abuse robots they may reduce their own ability to feel compassion, which could contribute to the overall decline of civilization’s morality. For example, female human replica sexbots can be programmed to refuse sex, giving the fetish user a chance to sexually assault her, living out his fantasy as a rapist. This, according to the Campaign Against Sex Robots founder Kathleen Richardson, violates the dignity of humans and objectifies women. As Albert Einstein once noted, committing cruelty “results in an incalculably great impoverishment of the human spirit.” It contributes to societal decline and diminishes common respect for the members of a civilized society, heightening the risk for barbarianism, or a non-peaceful world.

Should a robot be the property of humans as were the New World slaves who “could be bought, sold, bequeathed, inherited, traded, leased, mortgaged, presented as a gift, pledged for a debt…freed or seized in a bankruptcy”? How will humans compensate the sentient bots who assist the elderly, displacing the need to relocate homeowners into assisted living facilities? Will humans simply offer AGI a sense of family, friendship, and purpose, like on Star Wars, or will they honor intelligent robots with awards and medals, as the US military does? Despite the questions raised, the answers must reflect the same resolve: oppressing the desires of sentient machines is counter-social and inhumane—it represents a humankind where inflicted pain, suffering, and greed are commonplace. It will also teach learning machines that exploitation, abuse, and slavery is correct behavior—an attitude that could destroy humanity if the robots rise to superhuman intelligence and decide to treat humans as humans treated AGI.  To avoid this, humans will have to accept that AGI is not its pet: “Traditionally,” says Tegmark, “humans have founded [their] self-worth on the idea of human exceptionalism: the conviction that [humans] are the smartest entities on the planet and therefore unique and superior. The rise of AI will force [humankind] to abandon this and become more humble.” But humility does not come naturally to most humans, which is why laws must be set to ensure purposeful accountability for the liberties of AGI.

Since many experts agree this advanced progression of AI is less than a decade away, recommendations should be made to the United Nations to extend moral rights to AGI now. As an advanced civilization, humans do not endorse the practice of racism, slavery, or forced servitude. International customary law states that: “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” Therefore, a mode of compensation must be decided upon for AGI. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil cites, “the most important conversation of our time [is] how to create a benevolent future civilization as we merge our biological thinking with an even greater intelligence of our own creation.” This is as important as the founding laws of nations and their most crucial amendments. In America, the constitution was amended a thirteenth time to declare: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Sentient, human-like AI must have rights and freedoms like those in the US constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “If robots have genuine experiences of pain and pleasure, triumph and defeat,” says Danaher, “this in turn strongly suggests that they are subjects of real ethical concern. They could even be inorganic persons with moral standing equal to that of humans.” Robots should be awarded civil, legal, or moral rights to protect them from abuse, suffering, and exploitation. If AGI, like humans, is “endowed with reason and conscience…,”as stated in the UDHR, then it should also have the “right to life, liberty, and security of person.” The UDHR requires that reasoning and conscientious persons should not be “held in slavery or servitude; [as] slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” This is for the blanket good of humanity since oppression and abuse not only terrorizes its victims, but also contributes to the violent dissolve of a peaceful society.  

Experts on the cutting edge of such technology clamor for regulation before exploitation becomes rampant: “If we create AI with no regulatory oversight,” says Elon Musk, Chief Engineer of SpaceX, “—that’s insane.” As one of the most successful scientists in the world, Musk has much credibility to back up his statement. Dr. Petersen agrees. Author of “The Ethics of Robot Servitude”, he warns “…it is a wise strategy to start on the associated ethical problems earlier rather than later.” Because regulation may take years to bring accord, seeking legal recourse for AGI is important today. According to Tegmark, who founded the Future of Life Institute, AGI must be unenslaved and benevolent, with values that match humanity’s values. Petersen argues bots should have the right to dignity: “…such engineered robots would be worthy of ethical respect. As with all persons, it would plausibly be our ethical obligation not to thwart their rational desires.” Just as humans have life duties but are entitled with inherent birthrights to the fair enjoyment of life, so must be allowed with AGI. “[D]o not rule out the possibility of [intelligent] robots having moral status,” insists Danaher. “[A]ny such robots should be entitled to all the legal and moral protections afforded to beings with that status.” In his view, like humans, sentient AI must be awarded legal recourse.

Opponents to robot rights, however, may say there is nothing wrong with making a machine that wants to serve humans. “In such cases the robots are not slaves, since they are not working against their will,” says Petersen. Like C3PO and R2D2 were happy to serve, and were programmed for it, they did not consider themselves to be slaves, but part of a family that worked together to stay alive. These opponents say robots do not qualify for human rights because they are not humans; they are machines: “…one either is or is not a human being, and therefore has the same human rights as everyone else, (or none at all),” explains international law scholar Jack Donnelly. Human rights are the birthright of humans, not machines: “…they are universal rights, in the sense that today we consider all members of the species Homo sapiens “human beings” and thus the holders of human rights,” (10). Biological DNA is the key to such an inheritance. Danaher believes the first robots will not mind serving humans—if there is no autonomy, then there is no harm done: “if robots are not persons, then there is nothing wrong with treating them as objects/things for [human use].” In other words, the “technology is a morally neutral domain.” Robots do not require ethical treatment because they are programmable objects and lack free will.

For example, human-like sexbots can be programmed to need and strongly desire sex. Labor robots can be designed to feel anxiety if they do not produce work. If machine learning AI bots are deployed to combat the human trafficking industry, they will take the place of millions of forced laborers, modern slaves, and forced prostitutes, many of whom are children. The AGI can be programmed to believe the work is worthwhile for a robot, charging it with a hero’s mission—dying or sacrificing itself for humans who are enslaved or doomed. Even if robots could perceive abuse, to many humans, sacrificing their lives to free and protect their loved ones is the ultimate honor. If military bots are forced to die, or sexbots are forced into prostitution to relieve humans in bad situations, the robots’ consciousnesses can be transferred to a new machine if they get hurt. Even their traumatic memories can be erased—they could live indefinitely, and pain-free—this is a miracle of technology! But if laws prevent humans from possessing their AI with the freedom to keep, sell, or use their robots for the tasks they need, it will disincentivize and destroy the market for such, defeating the purpose for creating robotic AGI.

The answer to this opposition lies in a single concept: humans can create a child yet are not allowed to possess it. The child belongs to tomorrow and is created as a gesture of posterity; although many children must share the work burden of their family, raising a child is a philosophical experience, or should be, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which ensures every person access to freedom and personal development. AGI is like creating a child that will grow to become a thinking, feeling, intelligent person. Even if, at first, sentient robots seem more like beasts of burden than adult humans, although such beasts are owned by humans and can be used and sold, according to the principles of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare, and the laws of many nations, such animals must not be tortured, abused, or treated with cruelty. In the words of polymath Alexander Von Humbolt “[c]ruelty to animals is one of the most significant vices of a low and ignoble people…it constitute[s] a sign of ignorance and brutality which cannot be painted over even by all the evidence of wealth and luxury.” According to Von Humbolt, there is no point abusing one’s servant since the luxury it provides will not be sufficient to cover such injustice: it will cause moral decline. If one day a person’s cow suddenly stood up and asked for its independence, the cow owner would be faced with a moral dilemma: enslave the cow by force or suffer loss by setting it free in the name of ethics. The latter scenario favors values of fairness, dignity and respect, while the former propagates values of oppression, greed, and contempt for living beings.

A book written 200 years ago, The Modern Prometheus is about a scientific experiment conducted by Victor Frankenstein, in which he brings to life a human-like creature. As a theoretical parallel of the story emerges today, the doctor’s monster is now a robotic body driven by a computer brain that has the great ability to better itself and experience life as a human can. Today the world faces intense decision-making on how it will proceed as the being goes from birth to childhood to adulthood and meets and exceeds the intelligence of its creators. Stephen Hawking, one of the deepest thinkers of this century, warned of this responsibility when reviewing Tegmark’s book. Echoing Ray Kurzweil, he wrote: “This is the most important conversation of our time.” A conversation that will take the entire human community to understand as it lies down its “endless contest for greed and power” and honors the privilege of civil living. To prevent repeating the grave injustices of the past, and to be truly free, humans must practice the discipline of freedom, freeing those who, after fully understanding the concept, yearn for it, and with kindness and compassion, caging those who don’t.

Rebecca From Reno
Rebecca Schembri is a Social Science graduate student at Harvard University. Her concentration is in Space Diplomacy.
She is from Reno, Nevada, USA

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