RE: The "morals" of torturing simulated creatures.

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Mon Apr 28 2003 - 19:21:30 MDT

Perry writes

> > 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 maniacally... maniacal laugh not
> > included.)
> What does the term "right" mean?

So far as I have been able to tell, it's a sly way of alluding
to legal or Natural law, without coming directly out and saying
so. One thereby invokes a goodly number of semantic links to
tradition, virtue, authority, both secular and divine, and so
it tends to carry great rhetorical weight.

> 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.

Yes, thanks for stating this very clearly.

> 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 question "whether X has the right to do something", IMO, is more
than merely useless. It's almost always misleading, and also is,
like I said, a bit of a cheat.

The remainder of your remarks, too, are very well taken.


> 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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