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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

We need an AI rights movement

Jacy Reese Anthis
The Hill
Originally posted 23 MAR 23

New artificial intelligence technologies like the recent release of GPT-4 have stunned even the most optimistic researchers. Language transformer models like this and Bing AI are capable of conversations that feel like talking to a human, and image diffusion models such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion produce what looks like better digital art than the vast majority of us can produce. 

It’s only natural, after having grown up with AI in science fiction, to wonder what’s really going on inside the chatbot’s head. Supporters and critics alike have ruthlessly probed their capabilities with countless examples of genius and idiocy. Yet seemingly every public intellectual has a confident opinion on what the models can and can’t do, such as claims from Gary Marcus, Judea Pearl, Noam Chomsky, and others that the models lack causal understanding.

But thanks to tools like ChatGPT, which implements GPT-4, being publicly accessible, we can put these claims to the test. If you ask ChatGPT why an apple falls, it gives a reasonable explanation of gravity. You can even ask ChatGPT what happens to an apple released from the hand if there is no gravity, and it correctly tells you the apple will stay in place. 

Despite these advances, there seems to be consensus at least that these models are not sentient. They have no inner life, no happiness or suffering, at least no more than an insect. 

But it may not be long before they do, and our concepts of language, understanding, agency, and sentience are deeply insufficient to assess the AI systems that are becoming digital minds integrated into society with the capacity to be our friends, coworkers, and — perhaps one day — to be sentient beings with rights and personhood. 

AIs are no longer mere tools like smartphones and electric cars, and we cannot treat them in the same way as mindless technologies. A new dawn is breaking. 

This is just one of many reasons why we need to build a new field of digital minds research and an AI rights movement to ensure that, if the minds we create are sentient, they have their rights protected. Scientists have long proposed the Turing test, in which human judges try to distinguish an AI from a human by speaking to it. But digital minds may be too strange for this approach to tell us what we need to know.