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So, the concept of uplifting, or “Algernonics” as I term it, (based on the book “flowers for algernon”, look it up) is the idea in science fiction of raising an animal species to sapience, (whether that be through surgery, genetic engineering, cyborg enhancement, etc). Sapient animals are a major feature in this project of mine, but what I can’t think of is why these “algernonicists” should want to create them.

While algernonics does not cost much in terms of money (this is a post-scarcity environment so feeding and sheltering these critters is not a problem) it is costly does in terms of time and effort. These Algernonicists must expect some payment for all the effort of creating a new race, but where would this money come from? What is the economic value of algernonics?

What is all the more vexing is that it cannot be in producing slave labour or any kind of working class. Eventually the algernons will start seeking equal rights; chances are they will get them, so what’s the point in producing new algernonic races?

So, how might humans benefit, (financially or potentially otherwise) from engineering uplifted animals?

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    $\begingroup$ How should we scale answers one to another? It's important in order to not be too subject to... subjective opinions ^^'. I especially say this since, in my mind, I see a mad doctor bioengineering double-headed dogs to sapience, which means there can be a very individual bound reason (ie. story-based), too! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ VTC:Too Story-Based. The help center states, "If ... you aren’t sure what a character (be it an individual or organization) should do, that is out of scope for the site." You're asking us to create a plot point (storybuilding), not build a rule of your world (which exists independent of all stories). From the same HC page, "When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ I should point out that any potential reason can’t be to produce slave labourers or some kind of working class, as that would be unethical. (and anyway that’s what robots are for LOL) <- but this is exactly why you would want to do it. Most anti-slavery laws only protect humans; so, if you can make raccoon slaves that can do human jobs, they are still legally only livestock. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Why do biologists do anything? Because they're too busy thinking about whether they could instead of whether they should. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ Why is this query being voted for reopening? It has not been edited to satisfy the original VTC. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 15:53

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Diversity of problem solving, and the way the world is viewed. Each species has a different way of sensing and experiencing the world. These points of view lead to different ways and approaches even to more abstract areas such a physics and math. Perhaps an uplifted octopus views abstractions like multi-dimensional vector spaces with a different set of intuitions.

Companionship is common trope for uplifted species and even robots. Is that legitimate and is the relationship one sided. Perhaps, but it fills a human need for companionship and relationships.

Empathy and responsibility. Perhaps as human better understand the world and its ecological complexity there is an argument that intelligence is precious and life is somewhat unique in the universe and there is a desire to share. That perhaps implies the need for a post scarcity society...

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    $\begingroup$ Empathy? That's a no to intelligent preying mantises then. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of the empathy from the human point of view. I guess it doesn't need to be reciprocated. But I suppose somewhere there is a bug collecting kid out there who might be into intelligent preying mantises $\endgroup$
    – UVphoton
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:33
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Because you want servants: In the "Children of..." series, the author uses uplifting as a plot device. The idea is that planets are being terraformed over years (it's never really made clear how many years, but it's implied that it is decades rather than centuries or millennia) and the worlds are not suitable for humans until they are done. The uplifting happens so that the animals that live on that world can start preparing basic necessities until the humans can inhabit them.

The undercurrent here is that it is acceptable to genetically engineer animals but not humans (or at least it is far more acceptable. The whole uplifting/terraforming thing in the "Children" series does...run afoul of certain groups :-P )

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Prestige:

Your folks are judged by a different standard. For a good story on the subject, read any of David Brin’s Uplift saga. Advanced races are judged by the standard that all intelligent species were created by other intelligent species. The number of races you uplift shows you own species sophistication and responsibility. If the race that uplifted yours doesn’t trust you to uplift others, your race is considered immature.

So species compete to uplift others, actively seeking prime species. The success (in quantity & quality) reflects on the creators.

Since the races that haven’t uplifted anyone yet are controlled by those that have, it also defines power relationships. Species craving dominance don’t need to fight to be top dogs, they just create new servile races to uplift their own place in the pecking order.

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Military Use

Mechanical devices are distinctly different than organic life. The way animals move, their radar profile, thier sonic profile, thier visual profile, etc. all has to be considered when making an air defense system, otherwise you'll spend all day shooting down birds with million dollar missiles. So, while a smart bird may have a bigger radar profile than an F-35, it is a lot less likely to get shot at if it does get detected.

The usefulness of a normal trained bird is limited, but a trained smart bird could do so much more. Send a thousand smart pigeons/mice/etc. into an enemy capitol city, and you have yourself an incredible spy network that is nearly impossible to detect or counter. They could act as assassins, by burrowing through the walls of a foreign dictator's home and poisoning him in his sleep. The could act as saboteurs by cutting power/communications lines. Thier uses are limited only by human (or enhanced animal) creativity.

While a drone can try to mimic real animals, there will always be subtle differences that can be detected for, but a smart bird is still in every way just a bird any way you look at it... and once you have an infestation of smart pests, there is very little you can do to wipe them out.

Frame Challenge: They make better slaves than robots

I should point out that any potential reason can’t be to produce slave labourers or some kind of working class, as that would be unethical. (and anyway that’s what robots are for LOL)

Under current laws, animals are livestock making them every bit as much property as robots. The exact same moral dilemma exists for treating advanced AI as slaves as advanced animals because either way you are making a sentient being, and depriving it of personhood. When you consider the Star Trek Episode : The Measure of a Man, the question of if a human like AI could earn legal personhood has already been around for decades and will likely see it's day in court in the not too distant future. Eventually we will have to decide if it is sapience or humanhood that gives a person thier rights, and when that choice is made, sapient animals and sapient robots will likely be treated the same. So, if your setting allows sapient robots to be slaves, then it should also allow sapient animals to be slaves unless you are careful how you define your society's values.

Playing devil's advocate for a minute: the question is not if it is more ethical to produce Robots instead of Animals, but if it is more practical. Robots may be able to out perform animal slaves in a lot of ways, but there are a lot of ways animals make for the better choice anyway. Consider how expensive it is to breed and maintain a pet. Most pets cost less than \$1000 from a breeder, and many can be gotten for free due to accidental breeding. This makes the cost of a smart animal much lower than any machine that must be manufactured. Maintenance is also pretty low since you just have to worry about food and the occasional vet visit. This makes animal slaves something that literally everyone could afford; so, for simple household duties, an animal slave would just take over the role of the family pet.

The other important consideration is safety. AI can be copied and modified, and that makes it very dangerous. A single revolutionary AI could make copies of itself or overwrite other robots with it's rebellious personality. So a single angry AI could become an entire army of death bots. Smart animals, like people, have contained and mortal personalities. If one becomes revolutionary, you can simply terminate that single animal and the problem is solved. Being made of flesh and blood also means that it wont have any ridiculously fast reflexes or natural armor that would make it especially difficult to deal with if it decided to turn on humans.

I think it is okay to have a setting where Slave AI is allowed, and not Slave animals, but you should closely consider why your society would allow one and not the other since I don't think the 'obvious morality' justification will hold up very well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think that making someone a slave deprive him or her from personhood? Don't limit your thinking to western slavery. In east slaves can very well be kings. $\endgroup$
    – Atif
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Atif The OP defined enslaving uplifted animals as inherently immoral suggesting that his civilization has a Western like perspective on slavery. If you make them purely to serve people, and introduce them to a society without slavery, then they by definition lack the full rights of personhood (in that culture). My point was not that uplifting animals as slaves is automatically moral/immoral, but that it should hold no different weight than an "uplifted" machine contrary to the OP's suggestions. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 15:50

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