I once gave a lecture in Holland in which I suggested such a vision of benevolent silicon creatures and suggested that the word "we" might someday come to encompass them, just as it now encompasses females and males, old and young, yellow and red, black and white, gay and straight, Arabs and Jews, weak and strong, cowardly and brave, short and tall, clever and silly, and so on. The next speaker, a gentle-looking, eloquent elderly fellow - indeed, quite resembling benevolent old Einstein - responded by arguing vociferously that the mere act of trying to develop artificial intelligence was inherently dangerous and evil, and that we should never, ever let computer programs make moral judgments, no matter how complex, subtle, or autonomous the programs might be. He argued that computers, robots, whatever they might become, irrespective of their natures, must in principle be kept out of certain areas of life - that our species has an exclusive and sacred right to certain behaviors and ideas, and this right must be protected above all.
Well, to my deep astonishment, when this gentleman had finished his pronouncements, nearly the entire audience rose to its feet and clapped wildly. Dazed, I could not help but be reminded of the crudest forms of racist, sexist, and nationalist oratory. Despite its high-toned and moralistic-seeming veneer, this exhortation and the audience's knee-jerk reaction seemed to me to be nothing more than a mindless and cruel biological tribalism rearing its ugly head. And this reaction, mind you, was in the supremelycosmopolitan,anti-Fascistic,internationally-mindedcountryofHolland! Can you imagine how my ideas would have been greeted in the Bible Belt, or in Teheran or the Vatican?
Interesting. I'd like to think that I wouldn't be one of those blindly applauding, but there's a lot of self-preservation in that applause. Nobody wants to be inferior, nobody wants to suggest that they're disposable or potentially replaceable. The future will present some seemingly unique problems, but as mentioned in the piece, maybe they're not all that unique.