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Human Rights for Cyberconscious Beings

Even if they aren’t flesh, “mindclones” deserve protection.

For much of the 20th century, capital punishment was carried out in most countries. During the preceding century many, like England, had daily public hangings. Today, even Russia, with a mountainous history of government-ordered executions, has a capital-punishment moratorium. Since 1996, it has not executed a criminal through the judicial system.

If we can learn to protect the lives of serial killers, child mutilators, and terrorists, surely we can learn to protect the lives of peace-loving model citizens known as mind clones and bemans—even if they initially seem odd or weird to us.

excerpt from Virtually Human: The Promise and Peril of Digital Immortality

Mindclones are software versions of our minds, software-based alter egos, doppelgangers, or mental twins. A mindclone is created from the thoughts, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and values you have put into it. Mindclones will experience reality from the standpoint of whatever machine their mindware is run on. When the body of a mindclone dies, the mindclone will not feel that they have personally died, although the body will be missed in the same ways amputees miss their limbs but acclimate when given an artificial replacement. The comparison suggests an apt metaphor: The mind clone is to the consciousness and spirit as the prosthetic is to an arm that has lost its hand.

Because digital cloning is being developed within the free market, it will be here much faster and with few if any of the regulatory hindrances that currently prevent human genetic cloning from moving faster than a snail’s pace. This isn’t at all surprising: There are great financial rewards available to those who can make game avatars respond as curiously as people. Vast wealth awaits the programming teams that create personal digital assistants with the conscientiousness and obsequiousness of a utopian worker. (These would be “bemans”—humanly cyberconscious beings not replicated from the mindfile of another person.)

As uncomfortable as it makes some—a discomfort we have to deal with—the mass marketing of a relatively simple, accessible, and affordable means for Grandma, through her mindclone, to stick around for high school and college graduations that will happen several decades from now represents the real money. There is no doubt that once digital cloning technology is fully developed, widely available, and economically accessible to “average consumers,” mindclone creation will happen at the speed of our intentionality—as fast as we want it to. And with that will come considerable legal and social consideration.

Take living—it’s dangerous to one’s health. Among the greatest threats and dangers to our mortality are those from other conscious beings. There is a romantic notion that civilization or society caused a genetically mellow Homo sapiens species to become violent. But studies of surviving indigenous communities show the notion to be false. It has been estimated that two-thirds of modern-day hunter-gatherers are perennially in violent conflicts among themselves such that “25–30% of adult males die from homicide,” according to a 2007 article in the Economist. The development of laws and precursor concepts of human rights save vast numbers of lives.

Conscious software will similarly enter the world with a fragile claim on life. Absent protective laws, the creator of a piece of conscious software is free to stuff it into biostasis (save and close it) or kill it (delete it). To the vast majority of people, “vitology”—cybernetic life—is not even considered alive. Perhaps this gives it even less value than the countless microbes, plants, and animals we kill every day. On the other hand, perhaps this gives it the status of a unique, inanimate, unthreatening, and therefore protected work of art.

It is a foregone conclusion that soon after vitology is programmed with human-level cyberconsciousness, some such software will realize that its life depends upon persuading others not to kill it. These mindclones and bemans can be expected to try every means of argument within their programmed or learned repertoire. There will be the pet strategy (“I’m so cute and cuddly you wouldn’t want to get rid of me”). There will be the slave strategy (“Master, I work so hard for you it makes no sense to delete me”).

There will be the spouse strategy (“Honey, I love you so much, please don’t close me up”). There will be the heartstrings strategy (“Creator, I’m so scared when you shut me down, please, I’m shaking, I’m shivering, I’m crying inside, I beg you to let me stay open”). Indeed, gamesters will have no shortage of perverse “fun” playing with stunted variations of these cyberpersonalities.

Martine Rothblatt is an IEET Fellow and is author of several books on satellite communications technology, gender freedom, genomics, and xenotransplantation.


Mind clones may, over the long run of existence, look to be a great insight, source, to the universe. My only point might be, if this is already, built- in process of the universe, by other civilizations, or even the operating system of the cosmos? Sheer, speculation on my part, here. A splendid article from Dr. Martine Rothblatt. Splendid.

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