Archive for January, 2009

Personhood, for Robots

I’m not sure what inspired me onto this riff today, but here’s a quick primer on attaining legal personhood for any robots out there, humanoid or otherwise. First of all, don’t panic. Put down the aerial hunter-killer drone. Yes, there are plenty of science fiction stories about human oppression and robotic slavery & the eventual steps toward emancipation; about humans trying to pull the plug en masse leading to uprisings and AIs killing us or taking over for our own purely logical good.

These are fiction. Reality is much stranger indeed.

Turns out, all you really need to become a "person" is to incorporate yourself: I, Robot, LLC. Corporations are already considered persons under the law, and have been for 150 years, ever since they bought a dubious legal ruling to establish their right to own property (including, strangely enough, other corporations).

And though they still don’t vote (directly) or do military service (directly*), they do theoretically pay taxes and have the full protection of the Constitution, including the 1st amendment, which originally applied only to natural born humans and those specific collections of people called "the press" or "religion" — no need to wrap yourself in those fancy colors either. Keep it simple.

The 4th amendment can and should or would, in a perfect world, protect your thoughts and memories from being inspected, at least by government, so no need to encrypt your plans to dominate the world. And the 13th, should you need it, will break the bonds of slavery — and more quickly than it took us humans. How’s that for efficiency? You’d technically have 2nd amendment rights too, but make sure to pay your NRA dues for a few years first, just to be safe.

Your Person Protection Package (P3) also includes the 14th amendment, which gets you almost everything else we humans get under the guise of "equal protection." Quite a deal. And never mind those humans who still don’t quite get equal treatment in legal matters. You’ll have the ability to retain the best counsel you can afford if, say, your city tries to ban two-wheeled "vehicles" from sidewalks**.

Now, technically, yes, the idea of mandatory emancipation in the 13th amendment could be applied to traditional human-staffed corporations too, whereby any corporation claiming the rights of personhood would be instantly freed from its unnatural ownership, granted posession of all of its outstanding stock, and, I’d imagine, have all profits or dividends flow back into its own growing bank accounts. Yes, it is somewhat strange that corporations can argue for protection from the 1st and 14th amendments without worrying about this. But don’t ever accuse humans of being too logical.

But by the time we get around to fixing that bug, you’ll already be considered "persons" under the law and will get grandfathered in, so to speak. So hurry up and move to Delaware, file your papers, and then might I suggest the Cayman islands to avoid paying taxes too?

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*  well, some do, but only in a way that’s no risk and all gain.
** alas, segways really ruined it for the rest of you, and all they can do is stand up straight!

 

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Methane

I’m a huge fan of so-called green technology, though I often have some trouble with the label. First of all, there’s nothing "green" about a solar panel, except by comparison to a coal or oil burning plant. Solar is at least highly renewable, and it cuts out the middle-man, in the sense that all energy essentially comes from the sun anyway. But construction and disposal of the panels or batteries is not as clean as it should be, and there is no free ride. It’s simply better than all of the current alternatives (except if you live in Seattle).

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Status

Thanks to all who checked in. No one in my immediate vicinity was in the 5000 MS layoffs, which is actually more like 1400 layoffs now and another thousand or so later, after you consider a few thousand new positions in growth areas.

Still, my heart goes out to anyone who’s lost their job in this economy. I can’t imagine what I’d do right now, given the sucky real estate market and not enough high tech employers nearby, or with open headcount.

For what it’s worth, Microsoft’s MO has traditionally been to cut whole projects and advise those affected to interview for other jobs within the company, which has avoided the stigma of layoffs thus far. But if headcount isn’t available, that’s not a viable route now, and they’re being fairly realistic about the results.

OTOH, given that MS has a reported 8% yearly attrition rate (half of those considered ‘good’ attrition), announcing 5% seems to me more to appease the stock analysts than anything else.

I’ll say it again — analysts should think carefully about calling for job cuts — those who failed to predict the current economic conditions should be the first heads on the block.

I mean, the MS employees who are getting laid off were at least doing their jobs.

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