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If an AI became sentient, would it gain human (or equivalent) rights?

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AI can fake their emotions but whether they can feel those emotions is another matter.

Asked by: James Turner, Somerset


We call a creature sentient if it can perceive, reason and think, and also if it might suffer or feel pain. Scientists suggest that all mammals, birds and cephalopods, and possibly fish too, may be considered sentient. However, we do not grant rights to most creatures, so a sentient artificial intelligence (AI) may not gain any rights at all. AIs also have another big problem: they lie to us.

Today’s AIs all pretend to understand us and have emotions. If you ask Siri if it is happy, it may say it is overjoyed, but the words are hollow – it feels nothing. This makes it even harder for the AIs of the future. How do we know if the AI is sentient, or if it’s just pretending?

Is AI taking away jobs? © Getty Images


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Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.


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