Volume 1, Issue 2
2nd Quarter, 2006

Transhuman Parenthood

Sebastian Sethe

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Sebastian Sethe at the 1st Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons on December 10, 2005 at the Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc. in Melbourne Beach, FL.

Sebastian Sethe is a research student at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Law and also works as a research assistant for the Sheffield Institute for Biotechnological Law and Ethics (SIBLE). Sethe explores the meaning of parenthood with regard to Artificial Intelligence beings. He provides examples of posthuman children and refers to existing parental/guardian law and intellectual property law to devise likely approaches to parenting these children.

Considering we are only just beginning to consider the basic fundamental rights and standing in court of SetheArtificial Intelligence (AI), I realize that the topic I am about to explore is an ambitious undertaking. I hope that by exploring parenthood, I can suggest a line of alternative legal reasoning that might render some assistance on these first questions.

I am not starting with a completely clean slate, however, so I have to declare that this line of inquest is contingent upon at least three assumptions. First, it requires that the jurisdiction be one that is, at least in principle, prepared to recognize autonomy-based rights in persons beyond the bio-morphology of humans. Second, there must be some evidence that the entity in question is at least confusingly close to what we normally encounter as a person. And, third, traditional personhood must remain a valid milestone.

The beings with which I am concerned will not - at least not in the first instance – be encountered as uber-beings with vastly superior super-human minds. Instead, they will merely be entities that challenge or push the boundaries of our traditional concept of personhood. The entities to be considered are illustrated in Image 1: The newly digitized brain, the human animal, the fledgling AI, and the uplifted animal.

Posthuman Children
Image 1: Posthuman Children

The first question is, are these persons? That is a philosophical challenge, but looking to the law is a more practical approach. In law, we need to know why personhood should be important. The answer is that we tend to equate a person with autonomy and autonomy is something with which lawyers can work. This is clearly an important variable that we need to accommodate. We do accommodate it, but not in the usual binary manner. If you consider the distinction between person and no person, there are steps in-between; there are degrees of personhood. The law accommodates these by placing a higher or lower recognition on each of these categories.

My first conclusion would be that personhood it is not measured in binary degrees, in at least the legal recognition of personhood.

Often, when people try to establish whether transhuman beings are persons, they begin by trying to establish how smart they are. “Smart” can be broken down into any number of categories and people can argue, literally to death, about whether any of these are necessary or sufficient to constitute personhood in itself. 

For example, a cognitive capacity does not say anything about how much you actually know. This is particularly relevant when we are talking about knowledge, which cannot be easily downloaded or acquired because it cannot be easily transmitted. Typically, social graces are an example of tacit knowledge, and these, combined with behavioral and emotional patterns and certainly emotional stability, are a very important consideration when we try to judge the mental age of the human child. When we combine these with quirks, experiences, and convictions, we are beginning to chart a personality profile, and this is the reason why two people with roughly the same abstract knowledge and intelligence can be two very different persons. Lastly, let us not forget physical development, which is a huge factor in biologically-based persons. 

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