Saturday, July 17, 2010

Machines Deserve Nothing At All

[human U]sers deserve privacy and clean, generic information. Machines, on the other hand, don't deserve anything at all.
The people at have been having a little problem with script-driven searches cluttering up their bandwidth. It is being filtered by scroogle's security software, but it is a nuisance. The above quote is from scroogle's web page describing the problem, and it raises an interesting point to ponder.

People are created by God, and endowed by Him with "certain unalienable rights" which are enforceable against both the State and other people. Scroogle is a web site that allows you to search the Internet using (arguably) the best web search engine in the world ( without being subjected to paid links, tracking of your behaviour, outright targeted advertisements, and other behaviors generally not in line with Google's "don't be evil" motto. I use Scroogle because I don't need the miscellany, I just need search results and they deliver. You should use Scroogle also, but that is not the point of this posting.

Machines are created by men. The computer you are using to read this is, at its core, nothing more complicated than a few billion switches going on and off at a few billion cycles per second. If the electrical power is cut off, the computer is reduced to a useless amalgamation of metal, plastic, and a bit of paint. It is nothing more. You owe it nothing. If it were stolen or lost, you would be sad, but only because you lost money and data. It is not a person. This is changing, probably within my lifetime, from a clear-cut answer to something slightly less intuitively-so.

Computers are only as smart as they are programmed to be. They can only do as they are told and they only do exactly as they are told. If something goes haywire, you may rest assured a software or hardware engineer, or else mechanical or electrical failure is to blame. Programs exist which can carry on basic conversations with humans, but they can only carry on basic conversations. Google can find search results you might want, but only because it is using clever algorithms written by clever people. There are also programs which can write new programs. There are people out there whose sole aim is to make a computer which can think for itself, using deductive logic and something like intuition to arrive at an un-programmed, unique, and useful response. There are, in other words, people seeking to create machines with personalities. Sentient computers. Robots with *real* minds of their own.

These people have not learned the lessons taught by the Terminator series of movies, and they are also working up a moral/ethical dilemma for the rest of us: At what point does a machine stop being merely a machine, and start being entitled to rights as a person, per se?

If you are a paleoconservative such as I am, you will say either "never" or "no sooner than a post-conception fetus". Some bleeding hearts will say, if your computer has feelings which can be hurt, you must respect them. God forbid we should have to answer this question while people like the current Democrat leadership are running the show.

So is there a point to all this, then?

No. I'm just saying, machines are machines, not persons.

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