The "morals" of torturing simulated creatures.

From: Perry E. Metzger (
Date: Sat Apr 26 2003 - 08:08:10 MDT

I'll use X rather than "Corbin" here, not knowing Corbin.

"Psy-Kosh" <> writes:
> > I may be misunderstanding Lee's position, but the position
> > attributed to him sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
> The place where it becomes an issue is in the context of AIs/uploaded
> humans/other electronic consious beings.
> According to Corbin's position, (as I understand it) if you were an
> ai created by him, then he has the right to do whatever he wants to
> you. (ie, say.... construct a hell world or something and force you
> to exist in it while he laughs maniacly... maniacal laugh not
> included.)

What does the term "right" mean? I'm unaware of the universe having a
list of "right and wrong" written in mile high diamondoid letters on
the lunar surface for us to read. Therefore at best we can discuss
what people can do and what they might want to do and why.

Certainly X has the ability (given enough computing power) to
simulate creatures as intelligent as we are and torture them in
arbitrary ways.

As for whether X has the "right" to do such a thing, the question is
utterly useless. I can perform no experiment to detect the presence or
absence of the mystical moral fluid in particular activities any more
than I can perform experiments to determine if "angels" are watching
my activities.

The mere fact that large groups of sentients passionately disagree
about what these so-called "rights" are and that there is no way to
determine which of them is correct should indicate that there is no
absolute "right" in the universe that we can judge.

At best, we can argue about whether many of us would want to stop him
from doing such things, why we might have such desires, and whether we
would be able to act on such desires.

I'll leave the argument about whether anyone has the desire to stop
people from performing certain computations that simulate the
torturing of sentients to others, and stick to the question of the
ability to stop them.

It is likely (given the way the world is structured) going to be
rather difficult for anyone to stop such things, whether they have the
desire or not. It is trivial to determine that your neighbor has not
killed his children (observe the children playing in the yard, say),
but it is rather difficult to prove he hasn't performed a particular
computation. As I recall, Rice's Theorem would rather get in the way
even if you could produce some sort of reasonable rigorous definition
of the computations that we are said to dislike here. As a practical
matter, even doing a very bad job might require devoting a
considerable fraction of the mass of the universe to watching what the
rest of the mass was being used for at all times. Not a particularly
likely scenario, IMHO.

Perry E. Metzger

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