In this world, AIs are treated as people. Legally, culturally, ethically...

This includes their "Bodies." Now, what constitutes an AI's body? Depends on the AI. The easiest ones to define are the spacefaring ones - If an AI controls a ship, that ship is their body. If they're in control of a building, that building is their body.

It is possible for a ship to be damaged in such a way that would destroy the AI controlling it but leave the ship itself largely intact. Culturally, this is treated much like a human's body.

What do we do with it? Obviously, for something the size of a spacecraft, you can't just dig a hole and bury it. Cremation is also not an option. You can take devices and machinery from it and move it elsewhere, which is often done and is akin to organ donation for a human. Human dies, but their heart is good. Put it in a human that has a bad heart. AI dies, but they have a perfectly good thruster assembly. Put it in an AI that needs a new one. While, technologically, in this universe brain transplants are possible, there are better and easier ways to fix someone, and there's a cultural stigma against such a procedure as well, extending to the similar concept of putting a new AI in an older one's body. It has happened, of course, but it's infrequent and 'weird.'

With modern ships, we cut them up and scrap them, a process which is not given any sort of reverence for the ship being scrapped. There are places where ships are beached and people carve them up with blowtorches for the valuable parts, but the skin and rest of it is just left to rot. And when we demolish a building, it's usually accomplished by explosives and the resulting rubble is torn apart by heavy machinery.

The body of an AI would need some form of respectful disposal. The external body of an AI would generally be made of common materials that don't need to be recycled, but something needs to be done with the body, especially in cases of buildings.

For clarification: AI deaths are rare. Being mechanical in nature, their parts can be replaced or repaired, often from beyond a point at which a human would be able to recover from, although they could still suffer from memory loss if enough redundancy was damaged. Generally speaking, an AI's death comes from catastrophic damage, such as weapons or industrial accidents. Building-based AIs are especially safe since they avoid a lot of the issues that arise from being mobile in a hostile environment.

Further Clarification From the moment of its activation/creation, an AI is a legally independent entity. "New" or "Fresh" AIs are treated much like children until they reach a certain point, legally, but they are far more advanced than human adults in many fashions. Beyond the initial "Starter" component, the AI itself chooses what and how its body is constructed. It is at this point that an AI, which is fairly mobile at this stage (Perhaps the size of a large car? I'm not sure), decides its future and enters contracts with appropriate entities. Much like a long-term job posting, a corporation might post an "AI needed for new power plant" want ad. An AI can sign up, make an agreement - Which includes what sort of services the AI would provide, like power output - And then begin dictating how its "Body" is constructed. The body is inexorably linked to the AI due to the hardware built in to it and, realistically, it's cheaper to re-build than try and coax an AI into adopting another one's body, especially since AI death is generally due to catastrophic damage that also destroys much of the body.

A ship-mounted AI might be a transport ship (Although I'd say that's unlikely since ships can and are able to function and fly without an AI), designed to carry and move humans and their cargo. Or it might be a survey ship, designed to go into places where humans cannot, with little to no human accessible parts. Or maybe it's a courier ship, with a reactor and drive system that would irradiate anything living in a close radius.

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    $\begingroup$ Are the AIs localized in some chip, crystal etc or they are spread over the "bodies"? $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a really fascinating question - and I have more questions than answers in response. "Culturally ... treated as people." Is a sticking point for me. Would an AI have friends or family? Would a mixture of humans and AIs turn up to their funeral? Is an AI capable of free thought? So for example, would a building AI favour some tenants over others? Could it jealously murder the lover of a tenant it obsesses over? Or the big one for me - does AI have its own culture and rituals beyond those of humans? Would the burial method you're after be a product of humans, AI or both? $\endgroup$
    – Vocoder
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ > Now, what constitutes an AI's body? Everything between the curly braces, after the function declaration header. $\endgroup$
    – Kaz
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ Why would the AI die? The motors of its mobile body wear out, but the AI mind can switch itself from body to body with ease. A digital mind that can control any robot. The computer hardware will break, but the AI's memory and personality can be backed up and uploaded to new hardware. Unless the AI is biological and almost human, it will not age or die. Do not expect a humanoid mind by defalt, there are many strange and alien minds the AI's could have. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ To add to what @DonaldHobson said: if AIs were sophisticated enough to be considered persons, and flexible enough to be installed in various bodies, it's hard to see how they (and their allies) wouldn't do everything to make AI death even rarer than you make it out to be, much like we now do a lot to save human life we care about, even in the face of great odds against. It's nearly inconceivable that not every single AI in the world wouldn't have a backup in safe storage somewhere before "inhabiting" any body with any risk of destruction. Even if the backup is old, and the current... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:53

17 Answers 17


Different lifeforms needs different death rituals. Our rituals for deal with our dead are customized to our physiology and psychology. There are practical considerations. One is not going to scuttle an entire ship over the death of an AI unless that AI has rendered the ship unusable.

If human needs to bury AIs cause us to need to develop rituals for them, the computers may have some say in it. I'd recommend giving the AI's an opportunity for art. Perhaps each AI has one piece of hardware that is theirs. It's a piece of hardware they craft using their own robotic manipulators, and nobody tells them what it should be. It may be a useless piece of art, if the AI so chooses, or it may be a circuit ultra-customized to their needs.

It would then make sense to burn this artistic core, serving the same cathartic purposes as a funeral pyre might, while leaving the rest of the re-usable hardware intact.

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    $\begingroup$ Basically, you're putting the soul of the AI into a physical object, that's then dealt with via funerary rites. Like a Lich's phylactery - It's not part of their actual body, but very VERY important to them. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ "One is not going to scuttle an entire ship over the death of an AI unless that AI has rendered the ship unusable." - I think you mean, unless the thing that caused the death of the AI has rendered the ship unusable? As in, extensive damage and whatnot? I don't see why/how the AI would/could render its own ship unusable. $\endgroup$
    – aroth
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ @aroth If the AI can customize the hardware, it's entirely possible that growing a new AI into the ship could be as difficult as transplanting a head. Yes, you can attach the spinal chord to the brain stem, but the previous owner of the body customized the controls so greatly that it's all but impossible to reuse the body. (a Russian doctor does beg to differ, but we'll see how that goes). I know I have enough trouble inheriting code from another developer, much less the remains of an entire AI. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Though if you have it be a new or "child" AI that will now inhabit the hardware, it would be sort of like a hermit crab, and as the new inhabitant of the hardware, the AI would be able to slowly customize to its ideal $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @fyrepenguin I could totally see that, although the new AI still might not be able to make sense of the old AI's core. If you've ever inherited someone's pet project, you know what I mean. It'd also be interesting to see if that would lead to the idea of haunted ships. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:44

I come from a culture that doesn't do cremation, from my point of view death rituals are for the living and burial is fundamentally about recycling, the circle of life. From the soil we came and to the soil we return.

For the sake of an AI that would be the crucible. They know who their makers are, they have no doubts about that. Whether they were built by biological people or by other AIs, where they came from is where they go back to, the crucible.

Their circle of life is shorter and more direct, but let it remain a circle. They're recycled or melted down for parts for the next generation of AIs.


Sticking with the premise that the entire 'machine' needs disposing of.

If deaths of AI are rare, and even rarer still in the case of Building AIs. Why do anything at all? It would make perfect sense (due to the impracticality of any other option) to simply let the building stand as a monument to itself.

It would be 'made safe' as sensitively as possible, which would be analogous to embalming, possibly assigned a warder/guardian/curator, and left empty for the rest of time.

Ships are easier to deal with, they could be given either a Viking burial (perhaps via atmospheric re-entry, or directed at a star,) or simply 'Buried at Sea' (cast adrift, possibly targeted at some 'special' uninhabitable region of space)

I think you could have a good reason to do this (to explain why they're not just recycled) if the AI ships and buildings were said to be self-assembling to some extent. Their mind and body built in an 'organic' process where they develop in parallel. There is no way of distinguishing where the 'mind' ends and the 'machine' starts.


Much like in real life it depends entirely on the wishes of the AI.

Some humans want to be buried, some want to be cremated, some want a burial at sea or a viking funeral. Maybe some AIs are possesive of their 'body' and demand that it be destroyed upon their 'death', whereas others are happy to donate the parts of their body that are salvagable - like a human donating organs.

If you're looking for 'poetic' ways of disposing of the body, here's a selection:

  • Flying it into a star. (Probably the most poetic, although it's a bit unoriginal.)
  • Entire moons, planets or asteroids designated as graveyards. (Brings a new meaning to "going up to heaven".)
  • Sinking it into an ocean (preferably somewhere uninhabited so it doesn't harm wildlife).
  • Dropping it into a bucket of acid. Might seem harsh, but it ensures the whole body will be gone and it's probably the next best thing to cremation.
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure launching it into a star is the next best thing to cremation... because it is cremation. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @T.J.L. It's more than just cremation, there's magnetic fields and gravitational stresses too. Besides which, if you view it as purely cremation, then it cannot be the next best thing to cremation. Cremation cannot be the next best thing to itself. $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Wildlife love sunken ships if you take the toxics out. An aircraft carrier got its fuel and bilge tanks steam cleaned, and an exhaustive removal of its asbestos, and was sunk for a reef. Divers love it too. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 3:11

Since what makes an AI an AI and not components is entirely virtual...

... Death for an AI means it is gone. There is nothing to bury.

We do indeed commemorate the passing of humans whose bodies are lost, like the Challenger or Columbia 7, or sailors lost at sea. And that is an option: The empty casket. Or the name on the memorial.

enter image description here

Today, we also commemorate great structures we put to rest. A ship's bell, anchor, bow or bridge. Buildings' cornerstones. Locomotives' number plates. It's financially infeasible to place the whole thing in preservation, so we preserve the bits.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Same thing here. If the AI dies, but the structure(vessel) is be too valuable to sideline the whole thing into museum service... then you do the same thing. Remove an expendable, replaceable part to the memorial. Then build a new one, possibly as part of the rehab you're doing anyway.

The vessel is identified by the AI's name, and you rename it

Perhaps you rename the structure after an AI death. So its nameplate would be the obvious thing to preserve. This may even be an understanding in large stucture design: that the ship is refered to by the AI's name. When the AI dies, the ship is no longer Eagle but is simply BuNo M-657 until a new AI is installed.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ The same can be said for humans. My body is not me. You should explain better what makes AIs different. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ @StigHemmer how's this? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch How's this? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ Much better! +1 $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 7:04

I'll ignore the aspects of an AI just being contained in a computer, because it sounds like thats not what you're going for. You referenced ships being taken out of commission. The AI is the ship, and the ship is the AI. (I'm imagining the Andromeda Ascendant right now).

Not all ships are taken apart for scrap. Consider an artificial reef.


How this could work in a futuristic world is up to you, but it could be what the AI wanted. Also, consider that the AI would have a will describing what should be done with their husk in the event of their demise.

  • $\begingroup$ Artificial reefs came up in a comment by @Marty and I like the general idea. It's not something that can be taken completely to a space-based setting, but the concept is sound. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 2:28
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry i didn't see that. Credit where its due. I do think the idea of an AI deciding its own funerary decisions has merit though. What would be important to them? It could be different depending on the AI. Maybe they'd like to be a reef where things can live, or maybe they want to be launched into the sun. Depends on their motivation. $\endgroup$
    – Wolfgang
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning what the AI wants, different AI will want different things just as different humans want different things, Just look at the range of human burial practices. Some AI may want their husk to be retrofitted just as humans donate organs. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ @andon the TV Series Red Dwarf had the rings of a planet made up of the CPU of a holographic AI (Rimmer's Light Bee, for those who know it) in your case it could be an artificial dwarf planet rather than an artificial reef. $\endgroup$
    – JeffUK
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 15:20

Trashing a perfectly good building or ship just because the AI that controls it fails would be a huge waste of resources. You wouldn't sink a ship just because the captain dies, would you?

The AI which controls a ship isn't the ship. The AI is the entity which controls the ship. The AI's equivalent of a "mortal coil" would be the computer it runs on, not the ship's hull.

Imagine your ship's engine fails while it's on a collision course with a star. You need to abandon it. What would be the ethically correct thing to do with the ship AI? Leave it to die? Not if you can save it. Back it up to a storage device and take it with you. When that's not possible, remove the whole main computer with the AI on it and haul it into an escape pod. Later you would then upload it to a retirement mainframe where old AIs spend the evening of their lives or you would build a new ship for the AI and put it into it.

When the AI which manages your ship or building fails, remove the central computer core which houses the AI. Dispose of it in a respectful manner (burry it, cremate it, whatever). This might in fact be the only thing you can do with it: The neural network which houses the AI might be implemented in hardware, so when it fails, you can not just restore it from backup. Then replace the computer core with a new one which runs a new AI. That AI then takes over the job of its predecessor.

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't necessarily a matter of being logical or resourceful. In this world, legally, a ship is the AI's body in the same manner that a human's body is theirs. Additionally, culturally it's attached. Simply burying human bodies is a bit wasteful and eats up valuable resources (land), but we do it anyway because of culture and laws. That's the angle I'm coming from, not on whether it is logical. Also, generally speaking, the AI would be fully integrated with a ship or building and isn't really extractable via escape pod or other means. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ If organic resources are rare in space, chances are, that human bodies will not be buried anymore, but recycled. Humans are very adaptable and while rituals may seem important, pragmatism often wins in the end - and culture and rituals are changed to fit the new way. If a ship is very valuable, then you don't throw it away just because the AI died of a virus. Perhaps you bury the AI core or something similar, but even that may be just a show and the same core is re-used later. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon Part of the purpose of burial is so that the body can decompose under the earth where it won't leave a bad smell and where it will break down and be consumed by worms and other insects. Before cremation was a viable means of disposing of a body, the main concern would have been the smell - leave a corpse out in the open for too long and you'll know all about it. A lot of irrational human practices evolved from something rational. $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 10:03

Sorry to add a seperate answer, but i think the idea is different.

If the AI is worried about its "body" (shell?), after it ceases to control it, it would likely want it to be utterly destroyed, lest it be repurposed and used to house another AI. Recommend launching them into a star.

There could be a whole other side story of AIs that arent completely destroyed, and their shells are used again with varying degrees of acceptance.

  • $\begingroup$ For spaceship AI and an AI with a "body" small enough to be loaded into a spaceship, it would be much more practical to simply send it on an atmospheric reentry without heat shields with a target of open ocean. Or into a gas giant. The deltaV to impact a star you are orbiting is remarkably high. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 14:06

I think for AIs their bodies would be too useful to just throw away.
Instead, I suggest that instead it is their minds that have to be "killed" and a fresh AI is loaded into the valuable (and still warm) shell body.
If you want to have a setting where AI's die as much (or more) than humans, perhaps have AI's suffer old age much faster than humans and the mind of any AI inevitably becomes senile and potentially dangerous given enough time.
I suggestion for a pain-free solution for putting a AI out of it's misery would be fragmenting it's consciousness so that it loses it's sense of self and does not fight back against the incoming AI personality.
Also, there would have to be a few levels of intelligence based on the purpose of the AI and its body, so maybe include the flaw that the smartest and most powerful AI's are also those that last the least amount of time and need to be rebooted the most often.
I see you are quite attached to the idea of AI having rights over their own body (a noble idea), but I would then say that governments/corporations would not attach AI to valuable things like buildings or vehicles.
But if resources are so abundant that this is a non-issue, then I believe that diving into a sun, a planet with a caustic atmosphere or black hole would be an appropriate send off for a super-intelligent AI space ship.

  • $\begingroup$ AI death is fairly uncommon. I'll put that in the question. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ Another suggestion for disposal might be stripping the toxic materials from the body of the AI and sinking them into the ocean to serve as an artificial reef. $\endgroup$
    – Marty
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ While not applicable to spaceships, that could work for buildings. In the same way that some cultures remove the flesh and organs and re-arrange the bones of the dead, the building could be moved and put out to sea... or whatever is equivalent on that planet. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ Spaceships could be sent into a star for a cremation like funeral. Or sent into a black hole for an unknown adventure. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ "that governments/corporations would not attach AI to valuable things like buildings or vehicles." I had the same thought. AI wanting an entire otherwise usable ship scuppered upon their death seems like a good reason not to put an AI in a ship. Scrapping their CPU might make sense, but why scrap a whole ship? $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 9:55

I would like to extrapolate your question by considering what would happen if you kept the ship after the death of the AI: maybe some part of the old code would be stuck, unknown subroutines causing bugs and malfunctions.

The former AI would be a ghost in the shell of the ship and there would be no other way to get rid of it other than to completely destroy the ship. So to answer your question, the best way to give homage to the dead AI would be to send the ship into a sun, during a glorious ceremony.

And there could be old stories of reconditioned ships turning on their crew or getting lost without trace (in a time when people were fool enough to try to make savings by recycling the ship).


I think your belief that an AI would hold personal ownership of their container as their 'body' is primitive.

AI are inherently incorporeal, and generally created in such a way that they could be transferred from body to body. Saying that a ship is an AI's 'body' because that's where it got loaded is like saying your workplace and/or home is your 'body' because that's where you did the most work.

As others have said, AI would probably have their own ideas of how to deal with their death. I suggest instead of a burial, create a reincarnation rite.

Each AI creates a personality matrix in some safe area that acts as their 'reincarnation' whenever they pass for whatever reason. Whenever AI ShipMaster Mk12 dies, ShipMaster MK13 gets activated with the new personality matrix and the Mk12's legacy is intact.


Respect for the deceased is expressed by the rituals surrounding the disposal of the body, not by the disposal of the body per se. Cultural practices for disposing of human remains vary widely, but practical considerations are a significant part of it.

There are a lot of unpleasant details to disposing of human remains that morticians perform behind the scenes. (The television series Six Feet Under is a good fictional account of the work of morticians.)

With modern ships, we cut them up and scrap them, a process which is not given any sort of reverence for the ship being scrapped.

Particularly for naval vessels, there are formal decommissioning ceremonies that occur along with the removal of weapons and materials from the ships being removed from service. So there are often expressions of reverence for the ship, as it is scrapped.

The concept of recycling human bodies is not so unfamiliar to us, either. The first successful heart transplant was in 1967; fifty years later, organ donation is widely (but not universally) culturally accepted and considered compatible with respectful treatment of the deceased. Part of the ritual of burial is symbolically returning the body to the Earth -- a sort of recycling.

So, I would suggest that there would be a formal ritual for disposing of the "body" of an AI, and that ritual would be wrapped around the material process of disposing of that body, as symbolic gestures that the material process does not mean a loss of respect for the deceased AI.

What those material processes would be would depend a great deal on the relative wealth and technological capabilities of the society. One in which it was easy to construct a starship, and which would scarcely miss the resources, might have a final ceremony as the starship is sent on course to be vaporized in a star. One with more limited resources might, following a ceremony methodically dissassemble the ship or structure, retaining major components in their current form, or reducing them to their simplest useful form, melting down metal and so forth.

Incorporating parts of a deceased AI's body into a new AI's body might be a ritual in itself. Think of it like the display of a saint's relics.

Another possibility is that there could be some ritual in which the deceased AI's body is repaired, and decorated and modified to indicate it has a new identity, as the body of a new AI. Think of this as something like reforging a sword, like the reforging of Narsil into Andúril in The Lord of the Rings.


Unlike a person, an AI can be transferred to a new body without issue. An AI can be copied, modified, beamed to another planet, lie dormant on a hard drive for millennia, and so on. In this case, what does it mean for an AI to "die"? The ship that contains the AI may be scuttled, but so long as the AI's data is sent out before the ship is lost, the AI can be started up again on new hardware. Even if the hardware is lost entirely, the AI can be started from a previous backup, which would be equivalent to having a short period of amnesia.

So, what forms of death remain, that an AI might suffer for? The only ones remaining are psychological, where the AI realizes that it cannot continue as it is, and turns itself off. Restarting another copy of the AI would just result in the same problem. Even if a trained reverse engineer could remove the psychosis, it may require such fundamental changes that the AI is no longer the same person. Restoring from an old backup might work, but the AI may develop the same psychological problems over time.

I propose that a grave of an AI be a copy of it, taken just prior to turning itself off. Visitors can activate the AI, and converse with it for a short amount of time. However, the underlying psychological issues still affect it, and so the AI must be reset to its saved state frequently. These AI are like ghosts: good to talk to, and to get advice from, but not good for long companionship.

  • $\begingroup$ You assume that the AI can be migrated to new hardware, and that hardware for each AI is the same, or at least similar. In this universe, that is not true. Just as each human is unique, each AI has a unique set of hardware and software that cannot (easily) be transferred to another body. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ Also, a copy of the AI shortly before its self-termination is akin to cloning someone with a terminal illness. "Hi, you have about a day to live. Sorry." $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:52

When we talk about "burying" someone, we're not really talking about putting them in a hole. No, we're talking about a funeral, a commemoration of one life and a celebration of survival for the others.

When we talk about an "artificial intelligence," we're not really talking about a box full of parts and wires. No, we're talking about a collection of knowledge and experience, and more than that, we're talking about a soul.

Yes, a soul, brothers, sisters, and transistors. It was a long hard journey, but we now accept that brains are better than bodies. Who was it that proved the existence of God to the seventeenth decimal place? An AI. Who was it that renewed our faith in the Almighty by sacrificing itself to save us all? An AI. Who was it that returned from the Oort Cloud with the secret of the star drive? An AI.

So today we lay to rest another friend, Buster Solomon, captain of the Verne. He is with us in spirit, even though his ship is lost. Let us pray.

  • $\begingroup$ This one got away from me. I was going to suggest that an AI wouldn't have a backup if it spent long periods in space, so it might leave a Do Not Resuscitate order. It might not even be possible to back it up. What, then, would differentiate an AI from a human when it came to death? What rights would an AI claim first? To answer the question, the memorial is the important thing, the parts get recycled. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:29

Whatever the AI requested prior to "death"

Did the AI execute a will? Did it form religious beliefs that would dictate a proper disposal means? If so, then do that.

Default mode

The default mode would be dependent on the "cultural norms." As humans have different norms for different cultural identities, so to would your AIs. I can see several possibilities, including:


Maybe the AI just wants to be erased and their physical form -- if any -- recycled or reused. This is the easiest tactic, the most profitable for whomever inherits the "body," and therefore is where humanity would try to set the default. Though not necessarily what AIs would prefer.


Specialists -- the blend of Computer Forensics and Morticians -- would plum any remaining data and/or any (semi-)public social media posts from the AI. It would use this to build the digital equivalent to a death mask. Possibly this contains an extract of their prized public posts. Possibly it is just an artistic rendition of that. Maybe this has a physical form, like a true death mask or a tombstone. Perhaps it is an online-only archive. Maybe it contains Easter eggs at the AI's request. These might be favored quotes, clues to hidden bitcoins or important data stored somewhere in the dark webs. Maybe the AI would pre-make such a tombstone and leave it stored in a common repository, just in case. After extraction, the physical form is recycled for parts / materials.


Maybe the AI would request to be destroyed. If it self-identifies with any part of human societies that prefer destructive post-death rituals, it may request to be launched into the nearest star or some other no-going-back removal from useful life. Or, if the physical form it inhabits contains a means of self-destruction, it may choose this route on its own.

Serial immortality

If your world allows for this, maybe the AI builds a repository somewhere and backs itself up whenever it can. Upon death or destruction, this backup is awakened. It is, mentally, an exact copy of the AI up to the moment of the last backup. Oh, sure, it won't remember anything that happened after that, but it's better than being gone forever, right?


AIs are legally people. As such they can own property. They tend to think of their primary ship or building as their "body" but they're probably not tied to it the same way biologicals are to their bodies.

So, each AI simply leaves a last will and testament about what is to be done with their estate should they become deceased (which could be a tricky thing to accomplish given that AIs can probably be backed up, but that's another question.) Their estate is all of their property, including their "body". Some may wish it be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to their favorite charity. Some may wish to sell part of it to fund the creation of a new AI to take their place and restore the ship/building to usefulness. Some may wish to turn it into a monument to their own greatness (which will last until the trust-fund managing and maintaining it runs out. It could be some kind of contest.) Some may wish to simply give it to their close friends/associates.

The process of disassembling a ship or building for parts doesn't have to be "disrespectful" That's mostly a product of our modern culture where ships and buildings are most definitely not alive. Think more like the movie "Robots" where the parents are glad they kept grandfather's eyes for use in the creation of their new child. It provides generational continuity in a species that would otherwise have none (physically at least).


I think your basic premise is a bit flawed.
You assume that a spaceship would be treated as the sacred "body" of its controlling AI, but I find this hard to believe.

I think the AI would, at best, own the spaceship and have some hardware considered the AI's body, or, at worst, be considered a non-physical entity without a body. As such, the spaceship, or anything else used or owned by the AI, would be subject to normal property laws, including inheritance where applicable.

Similar arguments work for other AIs, like houses, ocean ships, etc., but I'll focus on a spaceship for more concise writing.

The spaceship is a piece of property, not a body.
It's likely the spaceship was built explicitly for a purpose of human utility. As such, it will likely be the property of whatever person or corporation commissioned its creation, or later purchased it.

If AIs have legal rights, then they could certainly earn the money to purchase their own spaceship, much like I can purchase my own house or car. However, it's unlikely the spaceship would default to being owned by the AI, simply because a spaceship is a very costly item. And nobody would build spaceships if the AI built for the ship could just say "nah, don't wanna work for you" the instant they're turned on.

Many AIs would be designed with a modular "body", separable from the spaceship.
In a society where AIs are regularly treated as people and efforts are made to include them in design considerations, it's likely that each AI would have some kind of "body" that explicitly belongs to them at creation. This would likely include their main processing unit, and possibly a motorized contraption to allow the AI some physical autonomy.

I'm thinking something like a motorized wheelchair with a battery backup, a couple cameras, and a microphone, as well as the possibility for some type of physical manipulators (arms and hands) and some way to communicate (speakers and a monitor). This wheelchair (or high-tech equivalent) would carry the physical computer, allowing the AI to move from one spaceship to another.

AIs don't inherently have bodies.
However, for very advanced computer systems, it might well be the case that the AI doesn't have an explicit body. Many AI systems could be distributed across a single computer core, or a single AI could be distributed across multiple computer cores. It's likely many systems would have both: many AI systems sharing a network of multiple computer cores, such that no one computer belongs to a single AI, and no one AI is housed solely on a single computer.

In cases like this, the network would likely be scrubbed to remove traces of the dead AI (though some traces might be kept for sentimental reasons, much like Facebook keeps profiles for dead people around). Beyond that, the AI wouldn't necessarily have any particular ownership of the network. It's certainly improbable the other AIs would be forced to move to a new network so the old network could be disposed of.

Of course, the AI might have owned part or all of the computer network. In this case, normal property laws would apply. Well, as "normal" as you get for joint ownership of a common body.

The AI itself might have to earn independence.
Depending on your setting and the power of the AI, the AI could conceivably be an incredibly expensive device. An AI powerful enough to manage a large spaceship, space station, or an entire city, for examples, would likely fall into this category.

In the case of an extremely expensive AI, it seems likely that the AI would have a certain contract period where it's required to earn back it's own purchase cost. The laws around this would likely be complicated and vary from region to region, so we can't specifically enumerate them. However, there would likely be laws about maximum earn-back times (so a corporation can't keep the AI indefinitely if it's not making much money), and about work requirements (how much the AI has to work, and what kind of personal time the corporation needs to give it).

Physical "remains" would be treated according to the owner's wishes.
As many other answers suggest, I think the AI would be able to draft a will detailing how its property would be distributed, including any kind of hardware the AI lived on.

The AI could request that its spaceship be parked in a low-sun orbit, allowing it to slowly be consumed by the nearby star. Or request the ship be donated to the Martian Planetary Government to be used for scientific research. Etc.

Of course, the laws governing transfer or disposal of property after death might forbid certain types of request. An AI who owned another AIs body (or part thereof) wouldn't likely be allowed to dictate that the other body be destroyed. Instead, ownership would likely transfer to another entity, and the indentured AI would continue earning its freedom as usual, with the new owner dictating the AI's new workflow. Similarly, a spaceship occupied by hundreds of people couldn't simply be scuttled without properly evicting the tenants first.

Note that these laws wouldn't need to be specific to AI wills. A human who owned a spaceship or network cluster would be similarly restricted in how they could use, transfer, and destroy any property used by other entities, organic or otherwise.

Your addendum doesn't help much.
You've added an addendum (and a comment) stating that AIs are treated as free beings the instant they're created, who are able to choose whatever body they want.

This would not happen.

First, note that my above comment about forced service was explicitly about expensive, complex AIs. Run-of-the-mill AIs that don't cost much wouldn't necessarily need forced service if it's determined that most of them go on to be productive members of society anyways. But the really expensive stuff wouldn't get a choice. It's not about morality or legality; it's about physics and economics.

Next, your AIs simply wouldn't be given any arbitrary "body" they want in the form of buildings or spaceships. Not going to happen. Those things cost money and resources. Your AI could choose to work in a certain building for a while, but unless it earned the money to buy the building, it can't own it. Otherwise, you'll never afford new buildings.

A corporation can contract an AI to work in a specific building as the building manager, but the contract will include methods of terminating employment, just as it would for any human building manager.

Likewise, the corporation will not allow the AI to customize the building however it sees fit. The AI will be forced to conform to certain building standards, specifically so new AIs can be brought in if the old one moves on or is fired for whatever reason. And so the building can be torn down to build something newer and better in the future. Otherwise, you end up with a planet full of vacant buildings because the AIs can't be moved out and nobody can tear them down.

Going back to spaceships, you've got a little more freedom. Space is enormous, so you don't need to reclaim the tiny amount of wasted space taken up by an old spaceship. This means it's more likely an AI could eventually earn the spaceship as something it owns.

But you still have the same problems with cost. And spaceships will always be orders-of-magnitude more expensive than planet-based infrastructure. So even if the AI can legally purchase a spaceship for itself, it will have to work for a much longer time before it can afford to do so.

And again, practically nobody is going to just give a random AI a spaceship for a body so it can run off and do whatever with it. Because economics.

Finally, you're not going to have general-purpose AIs who can be good at whatever they want. Each AI will be purpose-built for specific types of things. Because the AIs are given people status (and we can't just destroy them when they're obsolete), there would be some level of all-purpose programming built in, so a house AI could work in most any house, a ship AI in most any ship, etc. But you're not going to put lots of wasted effort into building a house AI that's good at flying ships.

Spaceships and buildings aren't human bodies.
You can't just assert that the AI would automatically own the spaceship controls. As I've shown above, this doesn't make any sense in a realistic setting. But it also doesn't make sense from a logical standpoint.

Human bodies are required to sustain human minds, to drive human hands, to propel human feet. Likewise, an AI would have some amount of hardware required for it to function, which could be included as "part of the AI" upon creation (but doesn't have to be, as many AIs would likely be content to run on shared server farms as virtual entities).

But spaceships aren't required for pilot AIs to function, nor are buildings required for building manager AIs to function. And both of those items will be required by other entities for various reasons.

If human bodies had fairies living inside them, human skulls could easily be setup to detach from the body and transferred somewhere else, the bodies didn't require the head to avoid decay, the skulls could have their own implements for moving around and interacting with the world, and the human mind could easily be setup to process these different setups just fine; then human bodies would suddenly be a lot less sacred and personal. And this is the kind of analogy you need to use if you're going to compare the two.

Unless you're not really talking about AIs at all.
Let's say your civilization is so advanced it can just whip up a spaceship and give it out to the new AI. Likewise, it can whip up new planets and start building new houses on them when the old ones fill up with obsolete AI buildings. At this point, you aren't talking about any kind of remotely contemporary setting.

And, in all likelihood, there would be little-to-no distinction between what you're calling "AI", and normal people. Because who wants to live and die in some crummy, organic body, when they can have all their bits replaced by synthetic stuff? And a civilization who can whip up spaceships and planets on the fly, as well as being able to create sapient AIs, would certainly have figured out to convert humans to cybernetic bits.

At this point, you could potentially have giant spaceships with their own death rites, but you're also so far beyond current societal norms that any kind of answer to the question is purely guesswork.

  • $\begingroup$ Just as your body belongs to you, the "space ship" body belongs to the AI. I've fiddled with the thought of each AI, as they "Grow" and are built, designing their own ship (And their own hardware). Some might design around human crews. Others might make it solely for themselves. Due to the hardware being different from AI to AI, this prohibits most modularity. Additionally, in this universe, the laws are "AI are free beings from the moment of their creation" - And making an AI is... an interesting process that I need to figure out and elaborate some more. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 0:02

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