The basis:

In the future there exists what I call "HuComs" Or Humanoid Computers(, like Chobits if you've seen it).

The usual HuCom is called a PersoCom, or Personal Computer. These are owned by a person (or organization) and are considered non-sentient. They act very human like and can walk around by themselves making decisions and such. On the surface they could easily be mistaken for a regular person.

There are however HuComs that are AutoComs, or Autonomous Computer. They are sentient and not owned. They are the exact same technologically, both software and hardware wise, at base, as PersoComs, but there is something about AutoComs that qualifies them as Sentient while PersoComs not.

This distinction is probably best shown in a virtual, purely digital, environment. A PersoCom might act completely human like, but they probably don't know that they are part of a simulation. They're really advanced NPCs in MMORPGs essentially. AutoComs are PCs within the MMORPGs and know they are in the simulation... but this example is complicated by some PersoComs know that it is simulation, but are not considered sentient.

To further complicate things, there are also things called SOman, short for Synthetic Organic Human. They are biologically human, but their brains have been manipulated to produce whatever personality and knowledge that is desired. They are considered property and are essentially the same thing as a PersoCom, but with biological hardware.

Both SOmen and PersoComs can become "sentient" and thus transition from SOman to regular Human and PersoCom to AutoCom.

The question(s):

What would/could be the legal codes that govern these Synthetics?

  • a. What would we use to distinguish one from the other, and how would you test for it to go from non-sentient to sentient?

  • b. What would the rights of these Synthetics be both, pre-sentient and post.

  • c. What would the rights of the (former) owners be?

  • d. What sort of fines/charges might be levied on the owners/former owners?

For example, such a situation might arise where someone is taking a long journey and some time during that long journey a HuCom becomes sentient. The owner cannot get the test done so does not know, but should have also had the test done sometime during the period of the journey. As a PersoCom, the HuCom is entitled to no particular treatment nor remunerations for anything that it does. However as an AutoCom the HuCom has the exact same rights and entitlements as the now former owner and as such it could be claimed that the AutoCom is being held against its will (kidnapping), is owed for services rendered, and even things like rape, abuse, assault, etc (even murder if you could retroactively prove that a deactivated HuCom was sentient at the time of deactivation) all of which would be completely innocent actions taken by the former owner.


closed as too broad by AndreiROM, Hohmannfan, Vincent, John Dallman, Thucydides Oct 7 '16 at 22:38

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Are answers which suggest we might choose not to draw such a sharp line between sentient and non-sentient useful? I think a world where you have computers acting more and more like sentient beings and variants of humans acting more and more like machines is an extremely interesting world to explore, but at some point I believe the line between sentient and non-sentient blurs. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 7 '16 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ The first rule of WB SE is don't talk about ... uhm ... sorry, got carried away. The first rule is that you don't ask multiple questions in a single post. Your question is already chock full of details which are not really essential to answering the post. You could cut it down by saying "in my world there are android like beings which are sentient, and some which are very similar, but are not. How would I bla-bla-bla." Second of all, you're asking us to design your world for you! This is a huge no-no here. You have to design it, and ask us if it's realistic, or consistent. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Oct 7 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @durakken - " I am asking what laws, what politics, what things would arise which is based on Politics and legal codes" <- that's ridiculously broad. Think about all the politics, and social constructs which influence legal rights for various groups. You'd talking about a major part of your universe. You need to make all that up and perhaps ask for help with bits and pieces of it, not ask us to come up with it for you. Also, "I'm essentially asking people what they find reasonable in this situation as law." <- that's opinion based. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Oct 7 '16 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @durakken - "Law is based on reasonability." <- LoL. So have there existed no unreasonable laws in the history of mankind? Are all laws in use in your own country/region reasonable? Really? You must live in a veritable Utopia. Last I checked we couldn't get several million people around the world to agree that women are not inferior to men, and that stoning them to death for holding someone's hand is "unreasonable". If you're really stuck on this issue you should take it to chat and seek some help, but it's well out of scope as it stands. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Oct 7 '16 at 16:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Durakken I think it might help you to think about the history of your world. In the real world we weren't just given modern society and then hashed out all the laws that would make it work. It's an incremental process in which changes in society result in changes in laws. When laws become unsuitable for society there are protests and potentially uprisings and those laws are changed. As a result laws rarely follow any sort of ideologically pure ethical solution, but are rather compromises between groups with different beliefs. Just look at laws regarding animal rights for an example. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Oct 7 '16 at 18:07

So based on our conversation in chat, here are my thoughts on this.

a. What would we use to distinguish one from the other, and how would you test for it to go from non-sentient to sentient?

So this is the one that I don't know a real answer for, but that's mostly because we don't have a real good test for sentience now, and smarter people than me have been working on this for a long time. My suggestion on this is that it should be some kind of automated self-test, where the machine will periodically run bool amISentient(). It could also be a periodic mandatory service thing, but that could run into problems where unknown machines would skip their service.

b. What would the rights of these Synthetics be both, pre-sentient and post.

Pre: Not much. A law requiring a quarterly service visit for the PersoComs, and a bi-yearly checkup for the SOmen to make sure that basic health needs are being performed, and to run a sentients test.
Post: Since these are created machines, they have a depreciation just like anything. Let's say 5 years is the economic "lifespan" of a HuCom, after which point they've fully depreciated. They may be functionally useful long after that, but no longer has a value. If a machine uplifts before being fully depreciated then it would have a choice to either become something of an indentured servant and work off the remained of its "5 year lifespan" or it can go to make its own way in the world, but it has to pay back the remaining depreciated value from the money it earns.
If it uplifts after the year period then it is under no obligation, and can either go on its way or it can choose to agree to wages from its former owner as it sees fit.

c. What would the rights of the (former) owners be?

The former owner has a right to the labor of the machine for the first 5 years of the machines life, sentient or not. After that point they can continue to use it unless it becomes sentient, after which time they'll have to either negotiate terms, or let it go its own way. If the machine becomes sentient, the owner still has to do all the maintenance, service checks, and upkeep needed for those first 5 years. After that time the machine is required to do that for themselves.
For SoMen the law may be different, since they are biological, requiring that the former owner treat them in a manner that is proper; a SoMen that was used for sexual recreation would have the right to say no to further activity in that area while still choosing to continue working their remaining indenturment.

If either type HuComs decides that it wants to continue working after its uplift and the former owner decides that they no longer want them then the indenturment is considered settled.

d. What sort of fines/charges might be levied on the owners/former owners?

None if they act in good faith, bringing them in for their regularly scheduled maintenance. If they are brought in for their checkup and are found to have uplifted, then they will at that point fall under the applicable laws.
If an owner skips checkups (perhaps suspecting that the machine has uplifted) then they should be fined an amount to be paid to the machine depending on how long it has been since the last checkup.


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