Now that we've officially launched the Rights of Nonhuman Persons program at the IEET, you can expect to see more of these discussions right here at Sentient Developments. Specifically, the questions we're asking right now include:
- What is a person?
- What are the criteria for personhood? And why should these capacities matter and/or confer a higher degree of moral consideration?
- When it comes to human-level rights and protections, what exactly are we talking about? What aren't we talking about?
- How do we actually go about changing the laws?
Looking at the big picture, I'd like to see it such that all nonhuman persons are protected from such things as torture, experimentation, slavery, confinement, and threat of unnatural death (i.e. hunting and murder). Ideally, I'd like to see the day when elephants are no longer forced to perform at circuses, great apes gawked upon at zoos, or dolphins confined to unacceptably small tanks at oceanariums. And so on. Essentially, the rule of thumb should be: If you wouldn't do it to a human, you shouldn't do it to a nonhuman person.
Speaking of actual species, my initial short list of (suspected) nonhuman persons includes:
- Great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans); it's worth noting that humans are classified as a great ape
- Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises)
- Cephalopods (especially the octopus)
- Grey parrots
Given how many species live on this planet, it's a pretty exclusive club. And I'm somewhat on the fence about the last two, but we have to perform our due diligence to ensure that these particular species get the protections we think they may deserve.
It's also worth noting that this is a starting point. I suspect that more species will be added to this list over time. This will be an iterative process as we (1) gain public acceptance on the issue and normalize the concept of nonhuman personhood, (2) create legal precedents and enact laws, and (3) learn more about the neurology and behavior of other nonhuman person candidate species so that they can also be included.
And although not a priority right now, we will also be considering the potential for nonbiological personhood. We foresee the day when an AI or brain emulation ceases to become an object of experimentation and instead becomes an agent worthy of moral consideration. We're not there yet, but we want to be ready for that eventuality.
It's also important to think about realizable and tangible goals. While we have a lot of work to do—and lots of minds to change—we should strive for nothing less than the actual achievement of our mission. I'm confident we'll get there. I suspect that the initial breakthrough will see great apes protected first, followed by dolphins. We're pretty much ready to conceptualize and accept these species as being persons; it's a relatively easy sell.
And from there, we'll move on the next species until we're done.