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LTAAA Symposium: Complexity, Intentionality, and Artificial Agents

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks for the sustained and careful engagement with all of your interlocutors, Samir. Your replies will help me better think through some of the arguments I summoned (nothing original to me, save perhaps my enthusiasm for them!) and perhaps inspire me to write something to post at SSRN. It’s refreshing to have an author engage his critics to the depth and extent you’ve done here and while I still find myself in deep disagreement about some matters, I think you provide an exemplary model of how a writer can discuss her work in an online forum to the benefit of all parties, anonymous readers included. Thanks again.

    Best wishes,

  2. Samir Chopra says:


    You are most welcome! Thanks very much for making me think very hard. I’ve been sick for most of this past week, but writing here has certainly been a partial curative. Incidentally, I’ve only just discovered your excellent blog Ratio Juris, and noticed the diversity of your philosophical interests (many of which are shared by me). I look forward to more discussions in the future.


  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    As for extraterrestrials petitioning for personhood: there is ample dramatic precedent (cf. also here) to make it evident that complying with such a request or granting such a petition would be a singularly bad idea (unless under duress, though in that case legal process would hardly seem necessary) — particularly if prior to the time they revealed themselves to us the ETs already would have become so knowledgeable about one of our national legal systems.

    In the comment where you announce the Chopra Theorem [*], you criticize a limited expansion of legal personhood to primates and cetaceans on the grounds that “it might still leave us thinking there was something unique about the particular biology of this planet.” Why should it be the function of any legal system on this planet to remind us that things might be different elsewhere?

    But actually, there might be a way to accommodate even your ETs while also denying AAAs personhood of any sort. We could declare that one of the criteria for personhood is to be (i) a member of a population that evolves by natural selection, and for legal personhood to fall within either (i), (ii) a collectivity of such members, or (iii) an organization managed by one or more such members (corporations, LLCs, etc.). [**] Let’s focus on (i). At a minimum, this means phenotypic selection by the environment that culls the weakest individuals in a population (ecological selection). Since this is awfully broad, we might require that the selection operate by both ecological selection and selection for reproductive success (sometimes called sexual selection). We could layer on a further criterion that the organisms display whatever mental and moral faculties you think would justify personhood for an AAA.

    One distinguishing feature for at least some AAAs here would be the absence of a phenotype. Another might be the presence of a teleology, such as a “fitness function” in a genetic algorithm. And of course the issue that they didn’t come into being by natural selection, but by design.

    In that regard, suppose we gave them a sort of a handicap (in the golf sense) and said, OK, from here on let them evolve by natural selection without any intrinsic teleology. Then there isn’t any assurance that the AAAs would ever become — or remain — as intelligent as you suggest. What’s adaptive and what isn’t is entirely determined after the fact; and many adaptations can be lost as things change. Same is true for us.

    There isn’t any carbon, much less human, chauvinism in this (other than, perhaps, the same human chauvinism you have in following Minsky’s criterion for intelligence). And it’s no more arbitrary than privileging intelligence as the indicium of personhood. But even despite possible resistance in some American quarters to the notion of natural selection itself, I expect that connecting personhood to biological entities would be closer to most peoples’ moral intuitions than deeming some automaton to be a person.

    Of course, you might cite your theorem and say that my point of view is just a preference. It is, and not just a philosophical one — it’s a political preference as well.

    Thanks for the enjoyable argument.

    [*] See also Stigler’s Law.
    [**] Here I’m talking only about legal personhood of the type that has intentionality ascribed to it — not about the sort ascribed to ships in admiralty law, e.g.

  4. Samir Chopra says:


    1. By stipulation, in my example, the extraterrestrials had established themselves as beings with a rich network of relationships on this planet.

    2. You ask, “Why should it be the function of any legal system on this planet to remind us that things might be different elsewhere?”

    Because legal systems consistently traffic in alternative, desirable states of affairs. It is implicit in all briefs: “A world in which this ruling is not made is worse than a world in which it is”. Because legal systems have expressive impact, and because a world in which biological-chauvinism is determinative of the possiblity for an entity to gain standing and become the subject of legal rights and duties seems a world worse than one in which it is not.

    3. Your strategy for denial is curious: a) AAAs might have evolved by “environmental filtration” (my preferred term instead of the endlessly-confusing “natural selection). b) They could part of collectives: swarms, robot groups (or are you ruling that out by stipulation?) etc. c) Ruling out ships is fine, but remember, part of the thrust of the rhetoric in Chapter 5 was “if it can accommodate ships, why not AAAs?”

    More problematically, your use of “natural selection” seems to ride on a misunderstanding of the theory of adaptation and environmental filtration, one that causes you to think that biology has anything to do with it. The adaptation and natural selection theory is so abstract and general that the evolution of AAAs could easily satisfy it in the right circumstances (reproduction with inherited traits that are not perfect copies and that vary in their adaptedness to the environment).

    Also, if you think they didn’t come to being by “natural selection” but by design, then that’s another confusion. They weren’t designed any more that we were in that sense. We represent a particular location in the evolutionary thrust of a particular physical process – so do they. We’re viewing them as designed much in the same way, some other creature with a different perspective could view us as being fashioned or designed by the ‘laws’ of physics and biology.

    Again, it is part of the stipulative nature of my argument in Chapter 5 that AAAs do become so intelligent and social that they can form rich relationships. If they do become so competent, then on what basis do deny them personhood other than mere reliance on a crude biological essentialism associated with personhood?

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