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Rights and Responsibilities of the Disembodied Mind  

Overview

Mind uploading– the idea that someday we will be able to transfer the information in our brains (our thoughts, memories, experiences, skill sets) into an external device, essentially creating a digital “copy” of ourselves–is now part of cultural zeitgeist. Books, tv shows, and movies speculate about it, while scientists and entrepreneurs dream of its endless potential.  One thing is clear, however, that mind uploading would be a fundamental change in what means to be human. In class we have begun to consider the potential ethical and existential questions that such a technological innovation would raise, paying particular attention to the rights and responsibilities we might associate with a disembodied mind.

This is complex topic, with many unknowns.  For example, there is significant debate about whether copying one’s brain is the same as copying one’s consciousness (in other words, whether your uploaded mind would still be “you”).  How you answer this question of consciousness dramatically changes the way you might imagine the disembodied mind’s rights and responsibilities.  If you think of the disembodied mind as unconscious computer code, for instance, you might afford it different rights than if you saw it as a conscious entity. 

Most neuroscientists working on this issue today believe that the uploaded mind would be conscious (they think that your uploaded mind would still be you).  So, for the purposes of this assignment, I would like you to adopt this position–imagine that when you copy a person’s mind, you are also copying their consciousness.  In other words, I would like you to imagine that the Disembodied Mind would be just like its human counterpart, but without the body.  It would have the same memories, emotions, personality, desires, fears, etc.  Once created, the Disembodied Mind would continue to learn and grow, developing new memories of its own and having experiences beyond its human counterpart.

In the near future scientists have just uploaded the first mind. You have been asked to serve on the US Technoethics Commission  which has been formed by the President under consultation from the National Academy of Sciences to set the ground rules for such a revolutionary technology. You will consider the following five key areas and questions.  

1.  Ownership: Who can own the disembodied mind?  Can a human being sell part or all of a disembodied mind?  Why or why not?  Should there be a limit as to how many copies one human being can make of their mind?  If so, what should that limit be and why?  

2.  Information Management:  Once created, can the disembodied mind be deleted?  Why or why not?  Who should be responsible for sustaining and/or managing the disembodied mind’s existence in the long-term (i.e. paying any associated fees that may be associated with its existence and upkeep such as maintaining servers, electrical bills, software updates, etc)?  Does the disembodied mind have the right to exist indefinitely?   Why or why not?  Should there be related social programs for the disembodied community (i.e. forms of care for the disembodied after their human counterpart is no longer living)?  Why or why not?  Should the disembodied mind have a right to privacy?  Why or why not?

3. Labor:  How should we understand the difference between human labor (i.e. labor performed by the human body) and disembodied labor (i.e. labor performed by the digital copy)?  What rights and responsibilities afforded to human beings should also apply to the disembodied (i.e. limited work day, scheduled work breaks, vacation time, family leave, disability, child care, etc)?  Should the disembodied mind be allowed to earn an income independent of its human counterpart?  Why or why not?  

4.  Liability:  If the disembodied mind commits a crime, who should be held responsible?  If a disembodied mind is injured, how should that injury be redressed?  How should such cases be adjudicated?  Should human and disembodied crimes be processed through the same legal system?  Why or why not?

5.  Military Service:  Should the disembodied mind be able to serve in the military and/or be used in military applications?  Why or why not?  If so, should they be afforded the same rights as embodied soldiers?  Why or why not?

Importantly, you will need to provide formal recommendations, speaking from the position of the commission.  For full credit, your recommendations must address each of the questions and provide specific justifications for each answer.  In addition, you can add any questions to the sections that you feel are necessary to be addressed. Your recommendations must be consistent and cohesive across all five key areas.  Please make sure that you have read through your recommendations to ensure consistency.  Finally, your recommendations should be supported with sources from case law, government reports, and/or peer reviewed journal articles. (We will talk about what this means in class). 

Requirements

You will be graded on the following:

  • Your recommendations must begin with an introduction that frames your discussion (i.e. describe why the technoethics commission has been convened to consider this issue and why the commission recognizes the disembodied mind as a conscious entity).
  • Your recommendations must address each question in the five key areas.
  • Your answers to these questions must be justified (i.e. you must describe the reasoning behind your answers and cite any sources that you used to inform your recommendations).
  • Your recommendations must be written from the perspective of the Technoethics Commission (i.e. using language like, “This commission recommends that…” and “It is this commission’s position that…”).
  • Your recommendations must be free of grammatical errors (again, imagine that you are submitting these recommendations to the President).
  • Your recommendations must be consistent across all five key areas (i.e. your reasoning about who can own a disembodied mind, must not contradict your recommendations about disembodied military service, for example).  
  • You must cite at least five sources (at least one source per key area) and provide a list of those sources at the end (please use MLA, APA, or Chicago style for your works cited list).
  • Such sources must come from case law, governmental reports, and/or peer reviewed journal articles. 
  • Your recommendations must be at least 2200 words in length (at least 400 words per key area, and at least 200 words for your introduction). 
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