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Poll of the Week: I, Robot?

Laria Herren

Poll of the Week: I, Robot?  

14 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you think androids, holograms, and computers should be considered sentient beings?

    • All artificial beings that demonstrably have a mind of their own should be declared sentient and given all the associated rights.
    • Androids and holograms should be assumed as sentient, but computers need to display certain characteristics of sentience first.
    • Androids should be assumed as sentient, but holograms and computers need to display certain characteristics of sentience first.
    • Only in extreme cases (Data, the Doctor, etc.)
    • No. These artificial beings are only imitating sentient behavior rather than being sentient.
    • Do you have a different answer? Let us know below!

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The Star Trek universe is home to all kinds of sentient life. The various humanoids that populate the galaxy are only the beginning. There are also the members of the enigmatic Q Continuum, giant crystalline beings, spaceborne animals, energy spirits, and a living nebula or two. But what about the androids, holoprograms, and computers of the galaxy?

Advances in the field of artificial intelligence produce artificial intelligences that are more and more lifelike and capable of things that would never be expected from the computers of previous generations. Even technology not typically treated as actual beings, such as the Enterprise D computer, have demonstrated the ability to develop a mind of their own with repeated use. The status of artificial beings such as Lieutenant Commander Data or Voyager’s EMH have been the central conflict in multiple episodes.

While Data and the other Soong androids are a unique case, there was nothing particularly exceptional about the EMH on Voyager until prolonged activation and accumulated experiences as the ship’s doctor caused him to expand beyond his original programming. If the Doctor could become a sentient being, is every hologram capable of the same transformation? Holoprograms such as the Doctor or Vic Fontaine appear to be the exception rather than the rule. What would the effects on life in the Federation change if every holoprogram and computer had the same rights as any other sentient being? How is sentience in an artificial being determined, if it is possible at all? That is the question we’d like to pose to you this week. Do you think androids, holograms, and computers should be considered sentient beings?

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I believe all artificial lifeforms regardless of format - android, holoprogram, or computer - should have the opportunity to be declared sentient but not given that designation without proof. Therefore, I chose the "Only in extreme cases" option. Really it would have to be decided on an individual basis as not every artificial lifeform reaches that level of sentience, self-awareness, etc. As in the case of the EMH Doctor - he became sentient but probably didn't start out that way so potential is one thing but it has to reach a certain level.

Here's how I would think the Federation would have to decide sentience on a case by case basis. I would expect that it would take a "jury" of people - psychologists and other sentient artificial lifeforms perhaps - to decide on each case. The "trial" is only conducted after the artificial lifeform itself requests the designation of sentience. The jury must observe the AI and consider its responses to questions such as - What is life? What is sentience? Are you sentient? Why do you want to be declared sentient? After considering all the facts and arguments for or against a decision is made.

I see it unfair to make a blanket decision for or against sentience for a whole population, though, because each being is in a different state of growth.

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Do I think androids, holograms, and computers should be considered sentient beings? ...No.

Do I think they should be afforded the same basic rights and respect of sentient beings? Yes.

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So, I was playing Mass Effect again and I think its in the second one or so when its mentioned the Geth wake up one day and say 'Do I have a soul?'  I'm pretty sure that's the red line for me when I say 'you know, its time to start treating this thing as if its sentient, alive, and has those rights'.

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