Honestly, like 90% of "should we treat robots like people?" sci-fi narratives are almost inexcusably lazy, because they're willfully ignoring the much more uncomfortable reality.

How can we be willing to acknowledge whether or not robots should be treated like people, without acknowledging the reality that people are already being treated like robots.

Think about it this way. The core question at the heart of every "should robots have rights?" type story is "having created a life-form that for all intents and purposes, has dreams and emotions and aspirations of its own, is it not wrong to lock that being into inescapable servitude?"

The answer to this question is yes, of course it's wrong. We all know that. We've seen it a thousand times. This is well-trodden ground by now.

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But here's the dicey bit: this /literally/ happens already. This exact thing. Every day, everywhere you go. You've just been trained not to see it.

People have to work to survive. It's just The Way Things Are™. Some jobs are better than others. Some people are happier with their jobs then others. There is not a single reasonable person on Earth who will deny these facts.

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But some jobs? Some jobs fucking /suck/. They are so easy, and so repetitive, that a machine could do them. Again, everyone knows this. In many instances, a machine has already been created which CAN do them.

But we stick with having people do it. Maybe it just costs less. Maybe the company swore to "provide jobs". Maybe there's something to the human ability to improvise. The reason why isn't really important.

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The point is, that every day there are literally MILLIONS of people doing work that robots could do. They're in the sweatshops and the warehouses and the drive-tru windows. They're everywhere. You can't avoid them. Either you've had a job like this, or you know someone who does, or you interact with one every day when you pick up your morning coffee.

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These jobs are limited in scope and scale. They are a series of actions. Do these actions in the correct order, at the correct time, and you will be good at your job. If you are good at your job, you get to keep it, and you keep getting a paycheck, and you can make rent another week. Easy.

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Do your job wrong, and you will be reprimanded. Do something other than the actions expected of you, and you will be reprimanded. Check your notifications, or sit down for a few minutes, or miss work because your kid is sick, or have a nervous breakdown because someone is screaming at you, and you will be reprimanded.

We don't need that part of you. We don't want it.

All we're interested in is the part of your brain that is necessary to do your job. Leave your humanity at the door.

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There's a reason that robots have been a consistent fixture of the national consciousness for almost a hundred years. Companies love them. They're the perfect worker. They don't need to be paid. They don't need to leave. They don't get distracted. They don't have dreams, or aspirations, or goals. You don't need to use managerial mind games to get them to do what you want. They simply do what they're told.

But in a situation where that robot is sentient, if it can think and feel, to be put in that situation seems unimaginably cruel. Like one of the worst, most sisyphean tortures of hell. Always working, never resting. Always yearning, never free.

This violates the immutable rights of any sentient being. We all know it. It's not even a complex moral calculation, it's a gut reaction.

So why, when faced every day with the minimum wage worker, do we feel more empathy for the machine?

@Dayglochainsaw Should sentient robots be given only negative liberties, or should society also provide positive liberties such as healthcare (free spare parts?) and education (machine learning? 😄).

Would these benefits come with civic duties, such as participating in productive activities, paying taxes... perhaps even conscription?

And should sentient robots also be given voting rights? Because, you know, "taxation without representation is tyranny!"


@Dayglochainsaw The answer to all these ethical questions is yes, at least as far as I'm the judge. But won't this pretty much re-creates the present society?

Being salaried-slaves is what we willingly opted into, after declaring all human rights and granting all the positive freedoms that we fought for, revolution after revolution.

@Dayglochainsaw Technically, we'd still be free to opt out and go live in a forest, but by doing so we'd lose all the benefit that organized society brings. Very few people choose to do it.

@Dayglochainsaw Another negative freedom that we mostly still have is voting with our feet: you don't like your government? You can always move to another country.

I relocated twice in my life, and I wish there were fewer barriers to do so for everyone. Borders and restrictive immigration policies limit the basic human rights of self-determination and freedom of movement.


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