Recently on the religious/philosophical site First Things, Joe Carter posted an intriguing op-ed piece on what it takes to be a “person”.
To paraphrase, being human and being a person are two different things, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. The difference is that a human being is defined by DNA, while a person can be defined by a set of criteria. For example, in Spain the great apes are legally considered “persons”.
Carter systematically traces the dangers of using “person” and “human” interchangeably – especially if being a person is determined by things like intelligence or capability. If a person’s rights are based on someone being considered a person, then at times humans might find themselves without rights. I won’t retell his fine post here, but it’s very worth reading and is quite thought-provoking.
I bring up the subject in that through speculative fiction, we are often faced with fictional life forms and artificial intelligences which would be considered persons. Yet it’s not so cut and dry. Should these entities, these persons, have rights on par with humans? Should a computer program, which has demonstrated the minimum requirements for personhood be protected against being turned off?
Tackling questions like these is what speculative fiction does best. With the continual advancement in genetics and computer science, we may soon be faced with such moral dilemmas. Speculative fiction can help us explore these scenarios ahead of time and perhaps help guide us through to the best outcomes.
Yet there is one other component to consider. What about the worldview of those who legally define personhood? What about the belief systems of those who influence tomorrow’s policy through creating speculative fiction today? Both will have a huge impact on how these questions will ultimately be answered.
The question is: who’s voice should and/or will be the most persuasive?