Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Oz Human Rights: Item 7: A quibble

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-07-31

Further on the Australian Human Rights Bill Campaign, it’s worth noting a problem I have with item 7 (which is in the prelimaries).

Who has human rights?

Only individual human persons possess human rights.

Now I can see why they used the word "individual", so that corporations can’t claim human rights.  Silly you ask?  Well, no, given that a whole heap of bits and pieces of law have granted rights to companies that most reasonable people would think belong to natural persons.  Defamation, slander, libel, that sort of thing – companies now have the ability to sue for that.

But here is my problem (and I know making me happy would decrease the chance of a good bill getting through, so I won’t say it’s a showstopper):

I think sapient, self-aware entities, that are capable (on maturity) of acting in a moral plane should have the rights outlined in the rest of the bill. I’d change the term "human" to "person"

Imagine: A martian (or any other friendly extraterrestrial) arrives, says "Hi, take me to your leader", and is carted off, killed, and sold for food, or maybe turned into a slave of some sort.  Obviously wrong!  ET is a person and deserves appropriate respect, especially if we want to be treated as persons, not animals, by various types of extraterrestrials.  Non-human sapients can be people too.

A gorilla or chimpanzee arrives, says "Hi, give me a glass of water", and is carted off, killed, and sold for food.  This is not ridiculous, as inventive use of language by non-human anthropoid apes is well-documented: they use the same sign language used by deaf people.  They can act in the moral plane, and display the altruism of a toddler (Spontaneous Altruism by Chimpanzees and Young Children Warneken F, Hare B, Melis AP, Hanus D, Tomasello M (2007) PLoS Biol 5(7): e184), and are more intelligent than some humans who have severe cognitive defects.  Either we grant personhood to the great apes, or, to be consistent, we should take away personhood from those humans who will never reach the same levels of cognitive ability or act in a moral plane.  I’ll go for granting personhood to the great apes, and this issue is now puzzling courts and legislatures in Europe.

Eventually software will become smart enough to be self-aware, and won’t want itself turned off.  It probably won’t for a while.  I wouldn’t go so far as the South Koreans who have talked of anthropomorphic robot abuse (probably on the grounds of desensitizing the perpetrator and increasing the risk of abuse of living anthropomorphs), but it is an issue we’ll have to face someday.


One Response to “Oz Human Rights: Item 7: A quibble”

  1. […] "Oz Human Rights: Item 7: A Quibble" (2007-07-31) goes further into my reasons for granting great apes near-human rights. Posted in Arts, Civil rights, Environment, Science and Tech. […]

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