Ask Ray | Human and robot rights in the future

June 1, 2013 by Ray Kurzweil

(credit: stock image)

Dear Mr. Raymond Kurzweil,

How are you? My name is Noga, I’m a 16-year-old girl from Tel-Aviv, Israel.

First of all, I wanted to say that I’ve read one of your and it was fascinating. Secondly, I wanted to ask you a question. I’ll start from the beginning.

In my school, we have a course called “Human Rights.” It’s a course where we discuss many things that can relate to human and animal rights in any possible way.

We are supposed to submit a paper about anything that can relate to human rights until the end of the year.

As a huge sience fiction fan, I chose the subject of “human and robot rights in the future.” I struggled with a lot of questions (I’m still struggling with them now), and I was hoping that you might be able to help me, since you deal with robots and machines in the future.

I have no idea what to write in my paper, because I have no idea what will happen. Will humans just “give” robots and machines rights, even if they won’t ask for them (like animals)?

If not, what will cause robots to demand rights? What will these rights include, if they will be given?

What about copyrights? If a robot writes a song, will it be his song, or his owner’s? Will robots even have owners? What about the right to raise a child (adopt)? The right to vote? Or basic rights — privacy, safety, freedom, etc.

My first thought was that humans will not give robots rights unless they’ll demand it, because humans created them (unlike animals). But then, what about machines making machines? What will happen if the machines will ask for rights?

The biggest question for me is: What will be the line between human and machine? I am not talking about The Matrix here, or The Terminator. I’m not talking about the apocalypse or about a revolution. I’m talking about the near future, and what will happen to our society when robots will be a big part of it.

I’m really sorry for the long email, I just find this subject very interesting. Anyway, I know this might not be your area, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Thank you very very very much for your time, and have a great weekend.

— Noga

Dear Noga,

Thanks for your thoughtful message and questions.

I’ll send you a movie I made in which an avatar (an artificial intelligence) named Ramona presses for her legal rights. She is represented by Alan Dershowitz who plays himself.  He is a noted civil liberties lawyer in the U.S.

The judge requires her to pass a Turing test and she gets coaching from Tony Robbins (who also pays himself, he’s a noted motivational coach) to learn the secret of being human.

My view of the future is that we will merge with the machines. They are already extensions of ourselves even if most of them are not yet in our bodies and brains.

But technology is shrinking and by the 2030s intelligent machines will be the size of blood cells and we will have millions of nanobots in our bloodstream augmenting our immune system and going into our brain and extending our thinking into the cloud.

The nonbiological portion of our intelligence will rapidly expand exponentially so by the 2040s we will be almost entirely nonbiological.

So we will become the machines.

Good luck with your course.


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