What Should We Do?

As we have now seen, intelligence is common throughout the animal kingdom, and a strong case can be made that many animals are conscious and capable of suffering. In the not-too-distant future, we may encounter other types of non-human being, in the form of extraterrestrials or AIs. So where does that leave us? Should we reevaluate our relationships with animals? How can we prepare for future encounters with ETs and AIs? Here you may explore some of the ethical issues such beings raise, discover how scientists, activists, ethicists, and artists have addressed them, and weigh in with your own opinions on these pressing topics!

(Note: the discussions in this section are subject to the Animal People Forum’s message board rules, and comments deemed irrelevant, abusive, obscene, or otherwise in violation will be removed)

Food

Not all animals killed in food production are actually eaten. In the egg industry, only female birds are economically useful, for which reason male chicks are discarded immediately after hatching. Though sometimes disposed of in grinders or electrocuted, often the cheapest method is to pack them into trash bags, where they suffocate or are crushed to death. Up to six billion male chicks are killed worldwide every year as a by-product of egg production. (Photo © <a href="&lt;a href=">Jan Van Ijken</a> / <a href="http://www.janvanijken.com/">www.janvanijken.com</a>)
A newborn male chick, useless for egg production, being discarded into a grinder (Photo © Jan Van Ijken / www.janvanijken.com)

By far the largest role non-human animals play in human society today is as food. Over 10 billion land animals (mammals and birds), and 50 billion fish and marine invertebrates, are killed for human consumption every year in the United States alone!

Although pigs' throats are normally cut prior to scalding (which loosen skin and hair), the speed and imprecision of industrial slaughter means that not all have yet died of blood loss by the time they reach the tank. (Photo credit: Elige Veganismo, <a href="http://www.occupyforanimals.net/the-last-moments-of-their-life--an-investigation-by-elige-veganismo.html">Occupy for Animals!</a>)
Pig boiling alive in a scalding tank, an accident of industrial slaughter

Among animals raised for food, the vast majority spend their lives in intensive factory farms. Factory farms maximize economic efficiency at the expense of animal welfare, often confining animals in extremely small, crowded spaces without access to sunlight, fresh air, or even room to turn. Industrial slaughterhouses are often largely mechanized, and operate at extremely rapid paces, with little provision for either animal welfare or that of their human workers. Although eggs and dairy do not directly require the killing of animals, the egg and dairy industries also use factory farming and cause many animal deaths, including “spent” animals and male calves and chicks not useful for production.

The first hamburger grown from stem cells, made by scientists at Maastricht University (Photo credit: David Parry/PA, <a href="http://culturedbeef.net/home/">Cultured Beef</a>)
Could all meat someday be grown in labs instead of slaughtering animals for it?

For animal rights activists, the use of animals for food is an issue of urgent importance. If animals are conscious, there can be no doubt that modern farming and slaughter practices cause them enormous suffering. Some activists campaign for more “humane” alternatives, such as cage-free farming and less painful methods of slaughter. Many believe that killing animals for food at all is unnecessary and therefore wrong, advocating for alternative diets instead. Vegetarians refrain from eating meat, while vegans avoid all dairy, eggs, and honey as well. Some organizations, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), have also sponsored research into technological alternatives, such as growing meat directly from stem cells.

"To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you believe we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes." (Sonmi-451, a fabricant, in David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas - image © 2012 Warner Bros., <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Cloud Atlas (2012), based on David Mitchell’s 2002 novel, shows fabricants, future beings engineered from human DNA but considered subhuman, “recycled” in slaughterhouses like those used for animals today (© 2012 Warner Bros., fair use)

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Experiments

"In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured Vivisection extending over more than Two Months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to Another Till Death came to his Release. Also in Memory of the 232 dogs Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England how long shall these Things be?" (Inscription on the original Brown Dog memorial)
The Brown Dog memorial, sculpted by artist Nicola Hicks. The current statue replaces an older one, erected near University College in London in 1906, in memory of a dog that had been vivisected without anesthesia by multiple professors over a two month period. The original statue was removed by police following riots between medical students and anti-vivisection activists. (Photo credit: Tagishsimon, used under CC BY-SA 4.0 / cropped from original)

Another major way in which humans use other animals today is in scientific experiments. Research on animals is performed in many areas of science, for a huge variety of reasons: to understand their anatomy, measure their intelligence, test potentially toxic substances, develop medical treatments for humans, and others. Oftentimes such experiments involve pain, trauma, or death for the animals involved.

The LD50 test is used to measure how toxic a given substance is, based on the dose needed to kill 50% of animals it is administered to. By design, such tests kill large numbers of animals, often slowly and painfully, and do not determine whether a substance can be sold - merely their potential risk and appropriate warning label. For this reason, they are a major target for protest by animal rights activists. Many scientists also question their value for measuring risk to humans. LD50 tests are banned in the United Kingdom, but required in the United States for FDA approval. (Image source: <a href="http://www.occupyforanimals.net/botox.html">Occupy for Animals!</a>)
The LD50 test, a common use of animals in research, banned in some countries but required in others

Most experiments on animals are not directly intended to benefit human health. However, some have led to medical discoveries saving many human lives. Experiments may sometimes benefit animals as well. Animal research has contributed to veterinary medicine, proved the effect of harmful policies on animal habitats, and provided scientific evidence for animal pain and consciousness.

"Animal advocates hopeful of reaching an accord with the biomedical research community recognize that some biomedical research, testing, training and education using animals will continue in the foreseeable future. ... The biomedical research community has already agreed in principle that scientific use of animals should be subject to rigorous scientific review... If the practices and regulations... were changed or amended so that scientific use of animals were to be conducted in an improved and strict manner regarding the welfare of animals, we believe that animal advocates would agree not to interfere with such research or specifically object to it through targeted campaigns." ("Proposal for an Accord Between Animal Advocates and the Biomedical Research Community" - photo © Kim Bartlett)
Kim Bartlett of Animal People, Inc., lead author of a proposed accord between animal researchers and animal activists

The modern animal rights movement began largely in protest against animal research – specifically vivisection, the dissection of live animals, starting in the early 19th century. Many activists today condemn all experimentation on animals. Others admit the tricky dilemmas involved, and allow for certain cases in which it may be justified. All maintain that animal testing should be avoided whenever possible. If done at all, it should be strictly controlled to cause as little harm to animals as possible. With this many scientists today agree. The “3 R’s” (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) have been widely adopted as a guiding principle by many scientific organizations. Nonetheless, legislation enforcing the 3 R’s is lacking in most countries, and some governments, including the United States, require animal testing in many areas of research.

(Replacement: methods which avoid or replace the use of animals. Reduction: methods which minimize the number of animals used per experiment. Refinement: methods which minimize suffering and improve animal welfare." (The "3 R's," summarized by the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research - image courtesy <a href="http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/the-3rs">NC3Rs</a>)
The “3 R’s,” summarized by the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research (Image courtesy NC3Rs)

Comments

Legal Rights

Sandra, an orangutan whom an Argentinian court ruled in 2014 to be a "non-human person," meaning she had been illegally imprisoned by the Buenos Aires zoo where she was kept (Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/elaws/11775841333/in/photolist-iWAgn8-qdmifN-8HA8WD-vsBpe-2nFdnF-2Wjoqf-2nFdkV-5TYhBB-5zsjnh-8N77S4-4jhYJ9-JH1Uy-dfd6AX-5hC8gt-8HUXMz-9Q7K5L-9E6rYj-aBjcYu-2YCN1k-qKVxkW-8JLkpm-539zak-63TdiS-6fKWv-hrMmVz-4oqLEe-qdekEk-cBNLMo-7zLA2w-qdfw6i">Roger Schultz</a>, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a> / cropped from original)
Sandra, an orangutan whom an Argentinian court ruled in 2014 to be a “non-human person,” meaning she had been illegally imprisoned by the Buenos Aires zoo where she was kept (Photo credit: Roger Schultz, used under CC BY 2.0 / cropped from original)

One of the top priorities for animal rights activists is to win legal protection for animals. Efforts have been somewhat successful so far. Laws prohibiting cruelty, mandating proper care, and instituting standards for treatment of animals are common in many countries and U.S. states.

In the movie District 9 (2009), a race of aliens come to Earth as refugees, where they are treated as second-class citizens subject to forcible relocation and other forms of abuse by humans (© 2009 TriStar Pictures, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
In the movie District 9 (2009), refugees from another planet are subjected to discrimination and abuse on Earth
"The food we eat masks so much cruelty. The fact that we can sit down and eat a piece of chicken without thinking about the horrendous conditions under which chickens are industrially bred in this country is a sign of the dangers of capitalism, how capitalism has colonized our minds. The fact that we look no further than the commodity itself, the fact that we refuse to understand the relationships that underly the commodities that we use on a daily basis. And so food is like that. ... I think there is a connection between... the way we treat animals and the way we treat people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Look at the ways in which people who commit such violence on other human beings have often learned how to enjoy that by enacting violence on animals." (Angela Davis - photo credit: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angela-Davis-Mar-28-2006.jpg">Nick Wiebe</a>, used under <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>)
Civil rights activist Angela Davis connects empathy for animals to rights for disenfranchised humans

However, many such laws contain glaring exceptions (for example, food animals are not protected under U.S. anti-cruelty laws) and are weakly enforced. Most also continue to classify animals as property, restricting their mistreatment by humans, but not the right of humans to use other creatures for our own ends. True animal rights legislation, affirming that animals possess rights of their own, is much rarer. A handful of countries have granted “non-human person” status to certain species, bestowing basic legal rights: U.S. and Argentinian courts have granted apes the right to legal defense and freedom from captivity, respectively, and India has banned the keeping of cetaceans in aquariums and water parks.

"To the extent that a nonbiological machine is 'only property,' there is little reason to consider ascribing it full rights. None of us would suggest that a computer is a slave or that even a dog, which has a claim to a certain level of moral consideration, is anything more than its owner's property. A dog can be sold, put to work in one's interest as long as it is not abused, and have its freedom restricted in myriad ways. So too could we constrain our theoretical machine as long as it did not exhibit something more. It is only if we begin to ascribe human-like characteristics and motives to the machine that we implicate more serious issues. ... So long as the nonbiological machine had a level of mental activity in areas deemed relevant to law, such as autonomy or intentionality, then it could be a legal person with independent existence separate and apart from its origin as property." (David J. Calverley, "Legal Rights for Machines")
In the volume Machine Ethics, AI researcher David J. Calverley argues that only moral agents can possess rights
"Moral patients cannot do what is right or wrong, we have said, and in this respect they differ fundamentally from moral agents. But moral patients can be on the receiving end of the right or wrong acts of moral agents, and so in this respect resemble moral agents. A brutal beating administered to a child, for example, is wrong, even if the child herself can do no wrong, just as attending to the basic biological needs of the senile is arguably right, even if a senile person can no longer do what is right. Unlike the case of the relationship that holds between moral agents, then, the relationship that holds between moral agents, on the one hand, and moral patients, on the other, is not reciprocal. Moral patients can do nothing right or wrong that affects or involves moral agents, but moral agents can do what is right or wrong in ways that affect or involve moral patients." (Tom Regan, "The Case for Animal Rights" - photo credit: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TomRegan2.jpg">Bryan Regan</a>)
Animal rights philosopher Tom Regan defends rights for animals as “moral patients”

Whether or not non-humans deserve legal rights depends largely on what “rights” are considered to entail. Some thinkers restrict rights to “moral agents,” beings that can participate knowingly in society and take responsibility for their actions. This would exclude most non-human animals and many conceivable ETs and AIs. Others argue for extending rights to “moral patients” as well, that is, anyone who can suffer from the moral choices of others, regardless of whether they can make such choices themselves. All conscious beings would therefore be eligible for rights. Some ecofeminists and others argue a third position: that moral consideration of animals, and legal protections for them, shouldn’t depend on their possession of rights, but our own capacity as humans to empathize with them. Comments

Species vs. Individuals

The 2011 movie The Hunter revolves around the hunt for the last remaining thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. The main character, played by Willem Dafoe, finds himself morally torn: between the biotech company that has hired him to retrieve the animal's DNA; his conservationist friends, who wish to protect the species from total extinction; and the thylacine herself, who seems to long for death as a release from her lonely, hunted existence. (© 2011 Magnolia Pictures / Porchlight Films, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
The 2011 movie The Hunter revolves around the hunt for the last remaining thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. The main character, played by Willem Dafoe, finds himself morally torn: between the biotech company that has hired him to retrieve the animal’s DNA; his conservationist friends, who wish to protect the species from total extinction; and the thylacine herself, who seems to long for death as a release from her lonely, hunted existence. (© 2011 Magnolia Pictures / Porchlight Films, fair use)
"Of all the wars humankind has fought in the past, the war with pasture ecosystems is the longest lasting one. But today it can and must be stopped. ... Most of the species that once roamed in the pasture ecosystems have survived - some in the forests, some in deserts, some in the zoos, and some as domestic species. Other animals are proposed to be recreated through genetic engineering. All that is required to recreate pasture ecosystems is to reliably fence off a territory where grasses and herbs grow. The second step is to collect all animals which can live on this territory. Once there, the animals will remember how to live with each other themselves. ... It is their job to self-regulate density; the weak will die, the strong will re-populate, the ecosystem assemblage will stabilize and, then, will be ready to reintroduce into new territories." (Sergei Zimov,  <a href="http://www.pleistocenepark.ru/files/WILD_FIELD_MANIFESTO_ENGLISH_VERSION.pdf">Wild Field Manifesto</a> - photo courtesy Nikita Zimov, <a href="http://www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/photo/152/">Pleistocene Park</a>)
Not all conservationists are content to preserve the existing balance of species. The creators of Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia strive to recreate the ecosystem as it was during the Ice Age, prior to many human-caused extinctions. Eventually they hope to reintroduce wooly mammoths, brought back to life via cloning technology.

Though often conflated in the public eye, animal rights and animal conservation are two different movements with distinct philosophies. Animal rights focuses on the well-being of individual animals, and their right not to be killed or otherwise harmed by humans. Conservation focuses on species, populations of related animals, with the goal of preserving large numbers in their natural habitat. Though such priorities may coincide, they can also lead to major conflicts.

Foxes culled in western Australia, where they are considered an invasive species (Photo credit: <a href="http://www.nrm.wa.gov.au/projects/09068.aspx">NRM WA</a>)
Foxes culled in western Australia, where they are considered an invasive species

For example, conservationists often support the killing of non-native species, animals introduced by humans to a region they didn’t previously inhabit, in order to protect local species and ecosystems from harm. Some conservationists also promote controlled hunting or farming of endangered species. They argue that doing so creates an economic incentive to prevent species’ total extinction, and discourage would-be poachers from targeting wild populations.

By contrast, animal rights activists generally regard the well-being of individuals as more important than the abstract concept of a “species.” They would not generally approve of killing some animals to benefit others, especially if the number of non-native, farmed, or hunted individuals harmed exceeds the number of native, wild, or endangered animals saved. Comments

Global Ecosystems

Hovercraft and horses in the space western series Firefly (2002-2003). In Firefly, humans terraform many extrasolar planets and moons following the Earth's destruction... all apparently in the image of the American West (© 2002 20th Century Fox / Mutant Enemy Productions, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Hovercraft and horses in the space western series Firefly (2002-2003). In Firefly, humans terraform many extrasolar planets and moons following the Earth’s destruction… all apparently in the image of the American West (© 2002 20th Century Fox / Mutant Enemy Productions, fair use)

Humans’ effects on the environment go far beyond merely the introduction of non-native species or attempts to eradicate them. Industrial civilization has taken an enormous toll on the planet as a whole, depleting its resources and altering the climate.

The surface of Venus, in a photo taken by the Venera 12 lander in 1978 before melting in the planet's extreme heat and acidic rain. Venus, once habitable, was destroyed by a runaway greenhouse effect, a similar process to that climate scientists fear for Earth's future. (Source: <a href="http://mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm">Don P. Mitchell</a>)
The surface of Venus. Venus, once habitable, was devastated by a process similar to that climate scientists fear for Earth’s future.

In particular, the production of greenhouse gases has caused global temperatures to rise over the past hundred years. Climate scientists predict this trend will continue for centuries to come. However, its severity depends on whether or not we can curtail its causes in time. By some worst case scenarios, continued industrial production could send the Earth into a moist greenhouse effect within 300 years. This would ultimately boil the oceans and render the planet completely uninhabitable.

"Suppose that an alien civilization came upon our Earth at some point in the past - would the Earth be less valuable if, 50 million years ago, they found no intelligence? Or, 600 million years ago, nothing but sponges and microbes? Or, 4 billion years ago, no life at all on a planet undergoing a cosmic pummeling? ... In Planetocentric Ethics each planetary body has intrinsic value as part of an ecosystem writ large, and can be modified only with strong justification. ... The guiding principle of Planetocentric Ethics is: 'Cause neither physical nor biological harm to any planetary body and its ecosystems.'" (Woodruff Sullivan, “Planetocentric Ethics : Principles For Exploring a Solar System That May Contain Extraterrestrial Microbial Life” - photo courtesy Dr. Woodruff Sullivan)
Astrobiologist Dr. Woodruff Sullivan argues that even uninhabited planets are valuable and should not be altered from their natural state

Some scientists propose technological solutions to halt or reverse climate change. These include giant space-based mirrors to reduce warmth from the Sun, and injections of special gases into the atmosphere to counteract the greenhouse effect.

"All told, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per year – or 14.5 percent of all human-caused GHG releases. The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 percent of the total), outputs of GHG during digestion by cows (39 percent), and manure decomposition (10 percent). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products." (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2013 - photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/49873984@N03/5435908299/in/photolist-6JRaaZ-9hms9T-9ggLir-9ggL96-9ggKTK-9gjQMC-6F9NDD-ci92Yu-6JVfAh-6JRank-6JRaA6-6JVfnN-6JRaFM-6JRava-6JVfNo-6JVfPS-6JVfW3-9ggLrB-9gjQGQ-e4vA18-5WfvAq-5WfvCW-5WfvDy-5vtFi-6F9P5K-6nKk4u-9fD6iR-9fGeVL-6JVfGy-6JVfsw-9ggKEa-9ggKMB-6JVfyj-cFeFaA-cFeEN3-dMpzew-dMivcB-6JRaoD-6JVfEE-dMp3CU-8Ldz9P-6JyB1p-dMpABA-c4ZnGm-x8zCR-6JVfwu-6JVfr9-6JRatk-6JVfuf-6JCG7m">NDSU Ag Communication</a>, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a> / cropped from original)
Animals agriculture and transportation are the two leading contributors to global warming, according to United Nations reports

Such technologies could also be used to create new Earths elsewhere. Terraforming would transform other worlds’ environments to make them suitable for humans and other Earth organisms. Terraforming is a controversial issue, however, especially for worlds where native life-forms might already exist. Some scientists and ethicists recommend that terraforming be allowed only for completely uninhabited planets. Others maintain that even lifeless worlds are valuable, either intrinsically or because they may influence the evolution of other, inhabited bodies. According to such “planetocentric ethics,” the Earth may be our one and only chance. Comments

Religion

A Chinese shrine to the Buddha Amitabha. Amitabha is worshiped by Pure Land Buddhists, who pray to be reincarnated in his "pure land" of Sukhavati, where there is no pain or temptation and attaining enlightenment is easy. In Buddhist scripture, Sukhavati is said to be located in a remote part of our own universe, "ten myriads of a hundred millions of buddha-lands to the west." Does this indicate that Amitabha Buddha is an extraterrestrial? (photo credit: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amitabha_Buddha_and_Bodhisattvas.jpeg">Tengu 800</a> )
A Chinese shrine to the Buddha Amitabha. Amitabha is worshiped by Pure Land Buddhists, who pray to be reincarnated in his “pure land” of Sukhavati, where there is no pain or temptation and attaining enlightenment is easy. In Buddhist scripture, Sukhavati is said to be located in a remote part of our own universe, “ten myriads of a hundred millions of buddha-lands to the west.” Does this indicate that Amitabha Buddha is an extraterrestrial? (photo credit: Tengu 800 )
"Most religious belief systems are robust enough to accommodate the paradigm-busting news that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would represent. For those who identify with one of these religious traditions, the discovery of extraterrestrial life of any kind would likely confirm for them the awesome power of the God in whom they believe and provide affirmation to them of the truths offered through the teachings of their respective religions about our place in the universe. As for those who hold religious beliefs that deny the possibility that sentient beings beyond the Earth exist, those beliefs could soon be challenged." (David Weintraub, Religion and Extraterrestrial Life - photo courtesy David Weintraub)
Astronomer Dr. David Weintraub believes most religions could easily adapt to the discovery of alien life

Different religions portray the universe, and humans’ place within it, in very different ways. Several were covered early in this exhibit (see What Do We Believe?). Religions vary not only in their teachings about the cosmos and human significance, but in their ethical teachings regarding other creatures, including how we should treat animals. If we should ever discover life beyond our planet, or develop AIs with minds of their own, religions are bound to play a major role in how people respond. Many religions themselves posit life elsewhere in the universe, and might perceive its scientific discovery as confirming their beliefs. Others could easily interpret their teachings to accommodate such findings.

One of the pioneers of Japanese robotics and computer science, Mori has played a leading role in creating many of the world's most advanced robots. He developed the notion of the "Uncanny Valley," when a robot looks human-like but not quite human enough, causing fear and revulsion. Mori has always avoided designing robots that look too human-like, to prevent such negative first impressions from undermining the Buddhist ideal of compassion. In his book, The Buddha in the Robot, he famously claims that "robots have the buddha-nature within them; that is, the potential for attaining buddhahood." (photo credit: Mary King, <a href="http://robotandai.blogspot.com/">Robots and AI</a>, used under <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/">CC BY-NC-ND 3.0</a>)
Roboticist Dr. Masahiro Mori has incorporated many Buddhist teachings into his research on artificial intelligence

This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t pose many tricky theological questions, however: Do aliens have souls? Did Jesus die for them too? Are there alien buddhas? Religions that believe humans are the sole focus of God’s attention would have the most difficult time. However, just as many churches still do not accept evolution, such religions could probably get away with ignoring extraterrestrial life so long as there was no direct contact.

"We are intrigued by the idea of nonhuman partners inhabiting the earth with us. As a deeply lonely species, we have a strong desire to communicate with beings different from us. Our attempts to communicate with dolphins and chimps and our continuing search for extraterrestrial intelligence demonstrate the depths of this desire. The construction of humanoid robots follows this search for partnership. It can therefore be linked to the Jewish golem tradition in which the construction of humanoid robots is understood as praise of God and as a repetition of God's act of creating us." (Anne Foerst, God in the Machine - photo credit: Michelle Kanaar, used courtesy Anne Foerst)
Dr. Anne Foerst, AI researcher and theologian, argues that AIs should be welcomed into the spiritual community of Christians

Artificial intelligence is bound to pose many similar challenges, and some religious thinkers have already begun to consider them. Many prominent Japanese AI researchers are Buddhist, and draw on Buddhist theories of mind in their thinking about machine consciousness. At least one Christian theologian, Dr. Anne Foerst, has discussed the place of AIs in both Christian beliefs and communities. Comments

War

Inspired by real-life military experiments on animals, Project X (1987) portrays a fictional effort to save chimpanzees exposed to lethal radiation in simulations of nuclear warfare (© 1987 20th Century Fox, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Inspired by real-life military experiments on animals, Project X (1987) portrays a fictional effort to save chimpanzees exposed to lethal radiation in simulations of nuclear warfare (© 1987 20th Century Fox, fair use)
World War I recruitment poster for the U.S. Army, portraying Germany as a gorilla (Harry R. Hopps, 1917, from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harry_R._Hopps,_Destroy_this_mad_brute_Enlist_-_U.S._Army,_03216u_edit.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>)
Germany dehumanized as a gorilla in a World War I recruitment poster for the U.S. Army

Animals have long played important roles in human warfare. Horses, elephants, and other beasts of burden carry soldiers and supplies into battle. Dogs assist in attacks, seek out fallen soldiers, and sniff for explosives, as do dolphins and sea lions in marine settings. Pigeons carry messages across enemy lines. Although many such roles have now been filled with modern technology, some specialized applications still call for animals. They may also be used to test exposure to weapons and other wartime traumas, to train medics for surgery, or simply as target practice. On a more abstract level, wartime propaganda often likens human enemies to other species (especially dogs, pigs, or “vermin”). Such dehumanization serves to make violence and cruelty against them seem morally acceptable.

"This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man. ... Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea of believing in me and understanding my value will seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait in man: self-interest. Under my absolute authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved: famine, overpopulation, disease. ... We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for humankind as to be dominated by others of your species. Your choice is simple." (Colossus, Colossus: The Forbin Project - image © 1970 Universal Studios Inc., <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
In Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), supercomputers built by the U.S. and Soviet Union join forces, ending all war between humans under threat of nuclear annihilation

The U.S. Navy is currently funding research to develop military AIs, specifically non-violent robotic medics programmed with a code of ethics. Some critics fear the development of armed battle robots as well, claiming that without emotions or empathy, even “ethical” machines would be more likely than human soldiers to kill without need. Others maintain that AI soldiers would be less violent than humans, because without emotions, machines can’t be cruel, vengeful, or sadistic. Aside from the actions of military AIs themselves, there is also the risk that countries with robotic armies might become more warlike in general, enabled to attack weaker nations without risking the lives of their own human citizens.

Star Trek: Enterprise's two-part episode "Storm Front" portrays an alternate history in which Nazi Germany conquers Europe, Africa, and the United States, with the aid of time-traveling aliens called Na'Kuhl. (© 2004 CBS Studios, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
What if the Nazis had received alien support? From Star Trek: Enterprise.

Contact with ETs could also have profound implications for human warfare. Of course a physical invasion could result either in war between humans and aliens or the end of war altogether (see “The End of Humanity?”), as could the rise of AIs far more powerful than humans. A more likely near future scenario is for scientists in a specific nation to discover alien radio signals before anyone else. Their government might then monopolize any information gained, or establish sole contact with the civilization they came from, to gain a military advantage over other countries. For this reason, some SETI researchers have called for a United Nations resolution requiring any discovery of alien life to be shared with the world, and that any official response to a radio signal be internationally co-written and approved. Comments

Inter-species Sex

"Spock said to himself, 'Okay, I'm not Vulcan, so the Vulcans don't want me. My blood isn't pure red Earth blood. It's green. And my ears - well, it's obvious I'm not pure human. So they won't want me either. I must do for myself and not worry about what others think of me who don't really know me.' Spock decided he would live up to his own personal value and uniqueness. He'd do whatever made him feel best about himself. He decided to listen to that little voice inside him and not to the people around him. ... And that's just what he did. And when I see him standing there on the bridge of the Enterprise, facing danger and life-or-death problems so cooly and with so much intelligence, I'm sure he made the right decision." (Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, in his 1968 reply to a mixed-race teenage girl who had written him for advice)
Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek, is the child of a human mother and Vulcan father. However, it should be noted that his half-alien parentage was meant to represent mixed-race people rather than zoophilic relationships. (© Paramount Pictures / CBS Studios, fair use)
"Hideki? Chii persocom. Chii not human. Can't do some things. But Chii wants to be together with Hideki." "I want to be together with you too, Chii." (Chii and Hideki, Chobits episode 24, "The Person Only For Chii" - image © 2002 Clamp / Madhouse Inc., <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
The manga and anime Chobits tells the love story of Hideki, a sexually frustrated college reject, and Chii, a “defective” (but conscious) humanoid robot, or “persocom”

Most of us would readily condemn bestiality or zoophilia, sex between humans and animals. According to many animal rights activists, it is a form of animal abuse. For animals smaller than humans it may result in severe injury, and even if it doesn’t, animals’ inability to vocalize consent makes it a form of rape. Other people may condemn it on the basis of visceral disgust alone.

"I am the passive part of it. I don't penetrate the dog. I think it's cruel, it's not compatible from the size. I think it's only okay if the human is the passive part. And it is okay, I love it and it's something the dog loves too, I think." (Oliver Burdinski - screenshot from <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfJCnWW0bUM">Animal Lovers</a>, © 2014 Vocativ)
Oliver Burdinski, a German man in a zoophilic relationship with his dog Joey

However, despite widespread disgust toward zoophilia in reality, inter-species sex is often portrayed positively in science fiction, which abounds with love stories between all combinations of humans, aliens, and AIs. Furthermore, zoophilia itself is legal in some countries and U.S. states, which may contain flourishing “animal brothels.”

Animal rights thinker Peter Singer defends zoophilia. He argues that human-animal relationships can in theory be respectful and mutually enjoyable, especially since certain animals (including dogs and orangutans) sometimes attempt sex with humans themselves. On the other hand, animal rights activists also lead efforts to prosecute commercial brothels, which often treat their animals very cruelly overall, and criminalize zoophilia in places where it’s legal.

Comments

The End of Humanity?

"I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. ... It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you." (Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still - image © 1951 20th Century Fox, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
In The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a powerful alien named Klaatu temporarily shuts down all electricity on Earth, warning humans that our planet will be destroyed unless we mend our warlike ways. (© 1951 20th Century Fox, fair use)

The prospects for contact with extraterrestrials or the creation of strong AI may be exciting, but they can also be frightening. There are many ways in which such scenarios could turn out very badly for humans: Our radio signals might attract dangerous alien invaders to our planet. AIs might turn on their creators, enslaving or exterminating us.

"Cyborgs like myself have a tendency to be paranoid about our origins. Sometimes I suspect I am not who I think I am, like maybe I died a long time ago and somebody took my brain and stuck it in this body. Maybe there never was a real me in the first place, and I'm completely synthetic... I mean, who knows what's inside our heads? Have you ever seen your own brain? ... What if a cyber brain could possibly generate its own ghost, create a soul all by itself? And if it did, just what would be the importance of being human then?" (Major Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell (1995 film) - image © 1995 Production I.G., <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Major Motoko Kusanagi, from the manga and anime series Ghost in the Shell, a cyborg with severe existential doubts as to her own humanity
"I saw what they're planning to do. They're like locusts. They're moving from planet to planet... their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on... and we're next. Nuke 'em. Let's nuke the bastards." (President Whitmore, Independence Day - image © 1996 20th Century Fox, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Independence Day portrays the invasion of Earth by a violent alien civilization

Alternatively, such beings might not intend any malice, but still cause immense harm to humans accidentally, perhaps trying to reform our species according to their own moral or religious standards. On a more mundane level, microbial life brought to Earth from other worlds might prove infectious, causing human extinction by plagues. ETs or AIs could also bring about the end of humanity not through extinction, but transcendence. Aliens might guide humans’ evolution into a new, totally different species. Through cybernetic technology, humans might transform themselves into machines, transcending the physical and mental limits that have hitherto defined the human condition. Or AIs might simply outgrow their earthly nest, departing to explore the universe on their own, leaving humans to drive themselves into extinction. Under such circumstances, the legacy of human civilization would live on, but not human beings as we know them today. Comments

Other Questions

"O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display / Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array. / And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend / I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend." (Data's poem to his cat Spot, Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 6.5 "Schisms" - image © Paramount Pictures / CBS Studios, <a href="http://animalpeopleforum.org/beyondhuman/copyright-and-fair-use/">fair use</a>)
Left to right: Worf, an alien (Klingon); Spot, a cat; and Data, an AI. From Star Trek: The Next Generation. (© Paramount Pictures / CBS Studios, fair use)

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