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Captain Picard Isn’t Going to Like This

David Gelernter explores what Jewish theology and ethics can tell us about relating to thinking machines. We’re not talking about the kinds of computers and AI systems around today but genuine, honest-to-goodness machines that can pass a Turing test and may come packaged in a human-shaped container. Starting from Marin Buber’s I and Thou, he takes an interesting detour into the related question of animals and animal welfare:

Judaism has no concept of rights and certainly no concept of animal rights. Rights are a Roman idea; Judaism deals instead with duties. Kindness to animals is not a right enjoyed by cows and elephants but a duty that binds every human being. Irrespective of the moral standing of animals, our own moral standing requires that we treat them kindly. To treat animals cruelly is inconsistent with the moral stature and dignity of human beings. And insofar as animals are human-like, treating them cruelly numbs us to the mistreatment of human beings.

Similarly, we must treat Data with dignity not because he has rights, but because treating him cruelly diminishes our own humanity.

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1 Comment

  1. thanks for sharing that. i think the rights/duties disctinction is both very useful and very biblical. although, to be fair to modern advocates of “human rights” the idea that every human has the same set of rights is very different to the Roman approach where only certain groups of people hads rights as such.

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