Evil racist robots from beyond the moon

...would be a good name for a rock band.

So I'm reading Timothy Sandefur's post about his law school graduation's extremely partisan commencement speech delivered by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, and I'm sympathizing with his being called both a racist and unworthy of membership in the legal profession for his opposition to racial preferences (there is not a force in the 'verse powerful enough to have kept me from heckling the Honorable Judge for that remark), when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Mr. Sandefur criticizes the Judge--on grounds of bizarreness--for going "on at length about how someday there would be intelligent computers and we would have to protect their rights and what not."

I'll grant that such talk is a bit bizarre, if only because it challenges some of our basic assumptions about our own unique qualities as humans. But is it totally outlandish to the point of absurdity?

Mr. Sandefur is a big fan of the philosopher Daniel Dennett, as am I. I'm still struggling through Darwin's Dangerous Idea, along with fifteen other books I'm reading in tandem, and both Consciousness Explained (Away, as his critics contend) and Freedom Evolves are warming up in the bull pen. I say this only to acknowledge that Mr. Sandefur is no doubt more familiar with Dennett than I am. (Indeed, I recall reading a book review he wrote for Liberty magazine a few months ago about Freedom Evolves.) Yet based on my rudimentary understanding of Dennett's positions on a number of issues, I am surprised that Mr. Sandefur considers discussions of the potential rights of computers bizarre.

If it is possible for artificial intelligence to one day achieve the equivalent of human consciousness, as Dennett believes it can, then why should we not begin to discuss the potential rights of machinery and/or software? If Mr. Sandefur rejects "mystical definitions for 'soul' and 'spirit' " as the source for our moral obligations, and instead rests this burden upon "the consciousness, in its intellectual, emotional, psychological, and rational characteristics," then which of these factors could not theoretically be possessed by a computer?

If recent events have demonstrated anything at all, they have proven that robots will not rest until justice is done.

Update: Let it be noted that Timothy Sandefur is not, in fact, an anti-Robot supremacist.

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Dennett discusses just this

Dennett discusses just this issue in Consciousness Explained, where he makes an impassioned plea that zombies are people too. See chapter 12, section 5.