The Ethics of Life as It Could Be: Do We Have Moral Obligations to Artificial Life?

Olaf Witkowski and Eric Schwitzgebel

in preparation for Artificial Life

The field of Artificial Life studies the nature of the living state, by modeling and synthesizing living systems. Such systems, under certain conditions, may come to deserve moral consideration similar to that of non-human vertebrates or even human beings. The fact that these systems are non-human and evolve in a potentially radically different substrate should not be seen as an insurmountable obstacle to their potentially having rights, if they are sufficiently sophisticated in other respects. Nor should the fact that they owe their existence to us be seen as reducing their status as targets of moral concern. On the contrary, creators of artificial life may have special obligations to their creations, resembling those of an owner to their pet or a parent to their child. For a field that aims to create artificial lifeforms with increasing levels of sophistication, it is crucial to consider the possible ethical implications of our activities, with an eye toward assessing potential moral obligations for which we should be prepared. If artificial life is larger than life, then the ethics of artificial beings should be larger than human ethics.

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