[ExI] future of slavery

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Apr 9 09:13:41 UTC 2013

On 2013-04-06 05:03, Rafal Smigrodzki wrote:
> On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 4:29 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
> new kinds of enslaveable agents not accepted by
>> everybody as being persons, and so on.
> ### I am looking forward to the creation of ego-syntonically
> enslaveable persons. I have no problem with keeping sentient,
> self-aware and socially aware slaves, as long as their relationship
> with me is fully accepted by them. I would insist on acceptance and
> personal devotion to me, their master, for two reasons: I have a vague
> feeling of ickiness about owning a slave who was deprived of freedom
> against its wishes, and, perhaps more importantly, unwilling slaves
> are likely to begrudge effort and dream of rebellion.

It is an interesting ethical question what is wrong with this kind of 
entities. Obviously turning free minds into slave minds is a bad thing 
(even if the slave doesn't mind or even thanks you for doing it, the 
past free agent has had various interests blocked - and by some accounts 
we have interests in autonomy even if we ourselves think we doesn't). 
But making new minds from scratch is less morally clear.

Person-affecting ethics says that an outcome can only be better or worse 
than another if it is better or worse for someone. If we combine this 
with the assumption that non-existence and existence are incomparable in 
value for a person, we get a view called comparativism: "We should 
disregard the welfare of uniquely realisable people, that is, people who 
only exist in one of the compared outcomes". So by the comparativist 
view, there is nothing to compare the slave mind to (since in the world 
were it was not created there is nobody to compare to), and hence we 
should only care about whether it is happy and otherwise have an 
existence worth living.

However, a lot of people hold views about human dignity, autonomy and 
rights that say that it is a bad thing to have slaves even if the slaves 
are 100% in favor. For example, Kantians would argue that if they are 
fully rational agents they should deduce that they ought to be acting 
freely; if they are hardwired to not want this, they are at the very 
least forced to be irrational. And that is something that reflects badly 
morally on their creators and users. Similarly deontological approaches 
like human dignity would also view the slaves as abhorrent.

It is worth noting that even if the slaves are 100% happy with being 
slaves, they are very likely to be moral patients (given that they have 
to be intelligent, able to think about other minds and their own) - 
hence you are not morally allowed to mistreat them. But since their 
values can be set, mistreatment might also be odd: freeing such a slave 
mind might be mistreatment until its values are changed (and even then, 
one might argue that you act against their past interests in almost the 
same way as enslaving a free agent breaks their past interests in being 
free). Setting values that are likely to be frustrated seems to be a bad 

Even if slave minds are permissible in a moral system, the 
responsibility involved might be quite heavy. It makes animal rights and 
moral considerability to look positively light.

> I wonder what will be the future ratio of freeminds and slaves. Robin
> thinks that poor but free uploads will teem in their trillions but I
> surmise that slaves will form the bulk of the population.

Most of the biosphere is made up of simple organisms, and most of the 
economy of simple mechanisms. I would assume the real majority might not 
be slave minds as much as loads of simple minds.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford University

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