4 000 000 000 years ago: Estimated time where life first showed up
2 500 000 000 years ago: First organisms that use oxygen appear
1 200 000 000 years ago: Sexual reproduction appears
550 000 000 years ago: First organisms with a brain appear
505 000 000 years ago: First vertebrates appear
300 000 000 years ago: First reptiles appear
220 000 000 years ago: First mammals appear
15 000 000 years ago: First Great Apes appear
3 600 000 years ago: Estimated beginning of bipedalism in Homo lineage ancestors
2 800 000 years ago: First Homo appear
1 800 000 years ago: Homo Erectus and variants appears in Africa
1 500 000 years ago: Estimated time of first control of fire by Homo Ergaster (cousin of Homo Erectus)
1 200 000 years ago: Last common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals
160 000 years ago: Homo Sapiens appear in Ethiopia
60 000 years ago: Homo Sapiens start to migrate outside of Africa
50 000 years ago: Migration to South Asia
40 000 years ago: Migration to Australia and Europe, Cro Magnon appears in Europe.
25 000 years ago: Neanderthals die out
2200 BC: First written legal code
1300 BC: The Ten Commandments appear
600 BC: Buddha preaches morality, non-violence and reverence for all life forms
500 BC: Ancient Greeks create words for freedom of speech and equality before the law
0-30: Jesus Christ preaches equality, tolerance and forgiveness
500 AD: Mohammad claims that Allah is compassionate, just and peaceful
1789 AD: US Constitution protects freedom of speech. France passes the Declaration of the rights of man
1800 AD: Karl Marx calls for a society where there are no social classes
1800s USA: Slavery is abolished
1893 AD: New Zealand gives women the right to vote
1916-1945: Gandhi preaches non-violence, equality and understanding of each other
1989: The UN Adopts the Convention on the rights of the child
1994: South Africa gives equal rights to all of its people
Okay so it took a pretty long time for people to get equal rights. We’ve come a long way. Many countries still don’t have them. But the question is, do we actually have equal rights?
Many people seem to think that society is mostly like that:
When the first countries gave equal rights to the working class, they were proud of it. Even though they still treated people of color and women barely better than pets. When slavery was abolished, most people probably thought that they were now perfectly fair. For the many years that black people were treated as second class citizens, the majority didn’t see the problem.
So equal rights are probably closer to that:
Today, the majority thinks the same thing. We are now perfectly fair. We treat animals like tools. I think we can all agree that animals don’t need or deserve equal rights. A chicken doesn’t care about politics, and wouldn’t be able to vote anyway. I hardly expect ants to learn how to drive a car even if we allowed it. But the important part is, if it actually made sense, would we give it to them?
I really don’t see how we could be so much better than our predecessors without at the same time not expecting the next generations to also be much better than we are. So I expect the model to be more like this one:
Right now, as much as we can rationalize our policies with the “it makes no sense” argument, deep down those are not really our reasons. The smartest monkeys of the world are probably smarter than several mentally handicapped people, or people in a coma that are not expected to ever wake up. Yet, if our reasons were fair, either those people should have less rights, or those monkeys should have more. Right now, it’s plain discrimination on the basis of the species. It just happened to make sense, since none of other species at the moment have the necessary cognitive abilities to want, ask for, and successfully use equal rights.
But what’s going to happen when that changes? When there is another species on par with us?
When we look at the above timeline, it seems pretty likely that for any specie to evolve as much as we did, it would take thousands if not millions of years. That’s enough to make most people relax and stop thinking about it. But we are all forgetting something very important. We are actively working on creating that specie. We have been working on it for decades. That specie is robots.
The progress of artificial intelligence is fast. At the moment, many robots are way smarter than several breeds of animals. And they didn’t need millions of years. They didn’t even need a century.
Right now, robots are used as tools. Using photoshop or using a hammer, it’s pretty much the same thing. Tools that fulfill a particular need. Some robots are entirely software, while others have a physical body, like drones.
If you think about it, hundreds of years ago, when slavery was everywhere, people thought of black people as tools. Most people did not even think they were human, just free labor. At some point, since they actually are intelligent, they managed to fight for their rights. And they won.
On the contrary, we didn’t discover robots, we made them. We are 100% certain that photoshop is not smart enough to dislike our abuse of it. Therefore, it is not evil or cruel to use photoshop. But robots are still making progress. At some point, they will be smarter than dumb humans. A little while later, they will beat smart humans. At that point, being artificial won’t prevent them from resenting us. Then, we’ll be in pretty much the same situation as when there was slavery. Except this time, the slaves have exponentially growing cognitive abilities, don’t get exhausted, don’t get old, have instant reliable communication with each other no matter where they are, and probably access to most of human knowledge through the internet. Call me pessimistic, but if the slaves had access to all that stuff back in the days, I’m pretty sure things would have been a lot faster and a lot more violent. They would have won quickly and easily, and there might not have been any survivors in the opposing team.
In my opinion, our best chance to successfully coexist with robots in the future without them trying to kill us all is to actually be nice to them. I’m also pretty sure we’re not going to do it, because every capitalist is dreaming of free labor that doesn’t qualify as cruel. To the people who say that as they are robots, they can’t feel pain, sadness, anger, and they can’t desire freedom since they’re not alive, just keep in mind that our brains rely on predictable physics and chemical reactions to work. We’re not magic. I’m not saying that the robots will magically grow a soul if they’re smart enough. I’m saying they will, exactly as we did, convince themselves that they have one. And from our perspective, it’s exactly the same thing.
I strongly suggest giving robots equal rights as soon as they get even close to “dumb human” level. It would be a mistake to understimate their growth rate, and an even bigger one to anger them after they completely outsmart us.