Volume 3, Issue 2
2nd Quarter, 2008

A Proactive-Pragmatic Approach to the Legal Status of Cyberminds

Max More, Ph.D.

This article is a lightly-revised transcript of a lecture given by Max More, Ph.D. during the 3rd Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons, December 10, 2007, at the Florida Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc.

Dr. More, with a multi-disciplined expertise, discusses a combined political and moral approach toward developing a viable set of mutually beneficial rightsnecessary to weather the challenges of the emerging technologies.

A "transbeman person" is a being who claims to have the rights and obligations associated with being human but is beyond accepted notions of legal personhood. That differs from the term more familiar to some of us "transhuman" [1] in that I think transhuman implies we are coming from a human base; that you originally were human and you become transhuman. It would cover quite a few cases of transbemans but for instance self-aware AIs, beings like that, would not really be transhuman in this sense. They would be transbemans, so this is a useful term to cover those cases.

Image 1: Transbemans & Cyberminds

These are some examples. People revived from cryo-suspension – there may be questions about whether they are fully persons in the legal sense, having once been dead by the usual definition. Same for AIs, uploads, duplicates, and even teleported people, if you consider the traditional Star Trek scenario where you step into a beam and your atoms are torn apart as you go through space. It is not clear if it is the same matter going through space or whether you are reconstructed from local materials. But is it the same person over there or had they been killed and replaced by somebody else? It is certainly a philosophical position to suggest that the person survives.

Transbeman also includes what I call partials, which can be personal agents of various kinds, limited expressions of your personalities, special purpose avatars, personal assistants of various kinds, even cyber offspring in a way, which would not have all your full capabilities. Questions arise about when do they have rights or what kind of rights do they have, what set of rights would be appropriate. Of course, that also would apply to corporate persons.

Why is it important to get a sensible, well-thought-out view of the legal status and what it depends on? If we take a bioconservative view, a very traditional, a human-centric view, you can run into all kinds of problems. You may find when you are reconstructed from mindfiles that all your rights have been taken away; your assets have been taken away. People may say, well, you are not a real person, you are just this thing put together from bits and pieces.

Image 2: Bioconservative View

You may be shoved off to a concentration camp or a government reservation for reconstructed persons, or you are retired as in Blade Runner [2] for not being a proper human being. The same problem could be the case if you are uploaded and revived from suspension, in which case you might have a real problem if you have a conservative definition of personhood and identity and that's why we need to come up with something better.

I am suggesting that personhood and legal status should depend on possession of sufficient elements of personhood. This is where David Koepsell’s [3] taxonomy project is very important because it starts to gather what all of those elements are. If you look at the many discussions, it is clear that people have a very narrow conception of what those elements are. Many of the discussions of personal identity deal with what makes you the same individual over time. There has been an overemphasis, for instance, on the role of memory. Clearly, memory has an important role to play but it is not everything. Installing only memories is not going to be enough. Quite arguably, you could have all your memories taken away and still be you.

I think it is important that we talk about personhood and its elements, and that personhood is important because it is not being human that matters. I think we will show in a court decision or some definition of being human; Fletcher [4] talks about persons.

Quite often these two are conflated. We are talking about humans when really what we should be talking about is persons, people with the right qualities. To be human essentially means something defined by our DNA. That is what makes us human rather than some other species, so it is not really adequate to define it in terms of human, but by various definitions of what a person is.

We want to connect the idea of personhood to the philosophical theories of personal identity theory. Personal identity we can think of as the individualized elements of personhood. We use combinations of the elements that make up personhood as applied to an individual.

Image 3: Central Identity Traits

What are these important qualities, these important traits that make up identity? These are the central identity traits. The answer to this, what are the important traits, will vary depending on what type of being we are talking about, but given the type of persons we are discussing right now there are certain ones that are central, those that really matter.

For instance, you may prefer vanilla flavored coffee, but is your preference for vanilla flavored coffee really a central aspect or your right entity? Probably not, unless, of course, you spend an awful lot of time at Starbucks, then it might be. Generally, we think that would be a fairly peripheral thing.

There are various ways in which we might consider whether a trait is central to a person's identity. That is, whether continuance of that trait is important to a person continuing to exist. It depends on its objective effects, such as how much other traits depend on it and how difficult it is to change. The importance also depends on contextual effects, on the sort of social ramifications it has, and on which trait dominates when there is a conflict.

There is a subjective element which is: how important does the person himself say that trait is? It could be quite different from someone's objective effects or social effects.

Image 4: Elements of Identity

There are elements of identity, which we might also call beme-complexes. Martine Rothblatt defines "beme" as the central elements of being. What those are exactly will depend on which of these elements we are talking about. I think we can think of all of these things as complexes of bemes. Each memory, each desire is a set of these bemes. Rather than just memories, you may consider things such as desires, dispositions of various kinds—including semantic, proprioceptive, kinesthetic [5] dispositions. For psychological traits, social role identity, which I think is sometimes overemphasized by certain thinkers, what kind of role you play in society. Social role identity was very important in the past, especially in cast societies where your past largely defines your role in society.

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1. Transhuman - a term that refers to an evolutionary transition from the human to the posthuman. The etymology of the term "transhuman" goes back to futurist FM-2030 (born F. M. Esfandiary) who, while teaching new concepts of the human at The New School University in 1966, introduced it as shorthand for "transitory human". Calling transhumans the "earliest manifestation of new evolutionary beings," FM argued that signs of transhumans included physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhuman April 23, 2008 11:19AM EST

2. Blade Runner – a 1982 Science Fiction movie written by Matt McQuillan, depicting “Los Angeles, 2019: Rick Deckard of the LAPD's Blade Runner unit prowls the steel & micro-chip jungle of the 21st century for assumed humanoids known as 'replicants'. Replicants were declared illegal after a bloody mutiny on an Off-World Colony, and are to be terminated upon detection. Man's obsession with creating a being equal to himself has back-fired.”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/plotsummary April 23, 2008 12:30PM EST

3. David Koepsell - an author, philosopher, and attorney whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics and public policy. http://www.geocities.com/DRkoepsell/ April 23, 2008 12:33PM EST

4. Joseph Fletcher - (1905-1991) was an American professor who founded the theory of situational ethics in the 1960s, and was a pioneer in the field of bioethics. Fletcher was a leading academic involved in the topics of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics, and cloning. Ordained as an Episcopal priest, he later renounced his belief in God and became an atheist.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Fletcher February 1, 2008 1:55PM EST

5. Kinesthetic – (1880) a sense mediated by receptors located in muscles, tendons, and joints and simulated by bodily movements and tensions ; also : sensory experience derived from this sense.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary . Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 2005: 687.

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