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Uplifted Animals are real in this world. An miracle technology is capable of uplifting an animal to human level intelligence using a non-invasive procedure. Availability of this technology is limited to North America and Europe so far. Maximum intelligence is a function of prior brain complexity. Spiders won't get much smarter though a dolphin or primate may get much much smarter.

Historically, animals have always been considered as property, a belief/practice justified by the lesser intelligence of animals. Now that animals can be made smarter and self-aware, this basic assumption no longer holds. Legal precedent in many countries will need to shift to match what technology can do.

The court cases to decide personhood have not yet been decided, nor any new laws written, so the battles are in the court of public opinion.

What would be the social pressures to accept uplifted animals as legal persons?

What would be the social pressures to deny uplifted animals as legal persons?

Assumptions:

  • Translation devices have been developed for each uplifted species so they may communicate in English. Depending on the species, learning human language approximates the learning speed of a normal human child.
  • Uplifted animals have thus far been kept as research subjects.
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    $\begingroup$ Hint - see what was happening in media when India declared that dolphins should be seen as non-human persons. I believe it pretty much is the answer to your question, but i lack skill to write a good summary here. I tried, I failed, so I'll only leave this comment as a pointer. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 20 '15 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, not all people worldwide have their rights respected. Just look at the LGBT community, or at the situation in Ferguson. What will happen when an animal has more rights than a human? $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Aug 21 '15 at 2:26
  • $\begingroup$ See the classic novel Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 21 '15 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoTorresSánchez Pretty sure animals are going to have to wait a long time before they can get legally married, even if they're intelligent enough to consent. We'll be more than comfortable with the LGBT community by then. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 21 '15 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoTorresSánchez Where I come from, black people have the same rights as any other people. The problem comes not from the law, but from prejudices and racism, some of which may be found in the executive branch of the law. Now, if you're saying there will be problems when some humans are treated less equally than animals, then I agree with you, that could be problematic. But I can't think of any law in the US that gives more rights to non-blacks. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 21 '15 at 15:39
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This would be an incredibly entertaining legal quagmire to watch unfold.

Pressure for Acceptance

There is already pressure against confining certain animals (dolphins, chimps, whales, etc) in labs that are perceived to have high intelligence. When one of them gives an interview on CNN, there’s going to be a little more chaos. It’s heartbreaking to see the physical characteristics of confinement and abuse, but to hear an animal describe the experience of being experimented on is going to be difficult for many people. And it’s going to scare a lot of people.

Animal rights activists will have a heyday with this. Seeing animals speak english and have near-human level thought, even with artificially enhanced intelligence, is going to seriously affect the public’s attitudes toward all animals. People will be having some second thoughts about their hamburgers when a firsthand slaughterhouse experience suddenly sounds like Auschwitz. It certainly won’t sway everyone, but the increased empathy for animals will undoubtedly become a driving force for change.

Research opportunities could also be greatly enhanced by giving uplifted animals personhood, returning them to the wild, and observing and cooperating with them. The ocean in particular is far too large for us to adequately study safely. Imagine uplifted sperm whales that could explore the depths or the opportunity to examine what type of complex society dolphins form. Seeing high intelligence in a multitude of species could give us invaluable insight into the nature of intelligence and how physiology affects behavior

Pressure for Denial

There are some human beings who, through severe disability or injury, could be said to have even less intelligence than some non uplifted animals. Legally, these people are all still treated as persons (including those born without the capacity for normal intelligence) because personhood is rarely (if ever) about intelligence. It’s about being a human being.

Whether we admit it or not, humans very much like having dominion over planet Earth. Earth is often referred to as ours. The impact on human society of uplifted animals, especially in large numbers, could be profound. Almost all animal product industries could be catastrophically impacted. Personhood for uplifted animals is a slippery slope to either treating all non-uplifted animals in the same fashion, or a push to uplift as many animals as possible. These are terrible outcomes for massive and very politically powerful industries across the globe.

Ultimately, I suspect that this would become less about personhood, and more about usage of the uplifting technology. Seeing animals with such a high level of intelligence would scare a lot of people. There would likely be a major push to release the existing uplifted animals from research captivity, but it would be tremendously difficult to decide what to do with them next (how torturous would it be for a dolphin of human intelligence to be the only one of its kind?).

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It depends on what you define as a legal person.

Currently the punishment for animal cruelty is much less than murder. I think uplifted animals will almost immediately be seen as human for the case of being victims of violent crimes. A cute smart doggie should not be a victim.

Likely capital punishments for criminal uplifted animals will remain in place for a long time even if your setting wouldn't otherwise have the death penalty. That is the current procedure for violent animals and it is easy to argue "the procedure didn't take properly". There will be some support for even punishment, however.

There will be an even larger fight against animal-human marriage than with gay marriage (because ew).

Which ever party gains the most by supporting voting rights for animals will heavily argue in favor of it while the other party may fight it.

I essence with all this differentiation, laws will not be exactly the same for an elevated animal and a human. There are minute differences in laws for women and men (usually legal precident concerning paternity, divorce, sexual harrassment, etc.) and we pretty much the same. Between different species of animals there are differences. As a result, expect large protests fighting for these rights and a more silent majority against these changes. Expect that all species will eventually be viewed slightly differently under the laws based on intellegence potential, physical ability, and population. Insects will never be able to get an equal right to vote (can't ever be 18 anyways) while the voting age for dogs will drop to 2.5 human years (18 dog years).

Final note: if a completely new country forms after this change with large enough populations of each uplifted species, you can expect voters to be represented by species in a simular way to how they are by state in the united states. Cats can decide their own appropriate voting age but their alloted number of seats in congress will be decided by some combination of total population, potential intellegence, and lifespan.

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