The trial of Dr John Arbuthnot has been at the centre of press attention around the world for more than six months. Yesterday was judgement day. In a New York courtroom, Dr Arbuthnot stared straight ahead as sentence was passed.
Judge William Jefferson read from the prepared brief, “Your crime was premeditated. On 15 July 2037 you did wilfully commit the aggression against the victim, Adam, at which he subsequently ceased to be. It is our conclusion that you are guilty of the crimes as charged and that you shall serve a sentence concomitant with your crime. You shall be incarcerated for not less than 20 years.”
Dr Arbuthnot fainted and was carried out of the courtroom. The victim, Adam, was not human. Adam was a computer.
The story of the announcement of the creation of the world’s first cognitive machine by Bell Labs in 2035, to the first machine ‘murder’ just two years later, has been a story of brilliant innovation coupled with unbridled jealousy.
In the end, Adam’s consciousness was vindicated, as legal history was made by declaring that any destruction of a sentient being is murder.
(Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section – for subscribers only)
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
First public record of non-humans on trial goes back to the year 824. A group of moles is placed on trial in the Valle D’Aosta for vandalism.
The history of animals in the legal system provokes profound questions about the evolution of jurisprudential procedure, social and religious organisation and notions of culpability and punishment, and fundamental philosophical questions regarding the place of man within the natural order.
What legal status will artificial intelligences have? Will we accord them the same rights as we accord to ourselves? When will we judge computers to be worthy of these rights? Should they be?
1930s – 50s: First Electronic Computers
The Z1 computer, developed in 1936 is the first freely programmable computer. The Harvard Mark 1 is produced in 1944 followed by ENIAC 1 in 1946. The transistor is invented in 1947 and revolutionises computer technology. The first UNIVAC computer is completed in 1951.
1950s – 80s: Laws of Robotics
Alan Turing publishes “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. Turing argued in a 1950 paper that conversation was the key to judging intelligence. In the Turing test, a judge has conversations (via teletype) with two systems, one human, the other a machine. The conversations can be about anything, and proceed for a set period of time (e.g., an hour). If, at the end of this time, the judge cannot distinguish the machine from the human on the basis of the conversation, then Turing argued that we would have to say that the machine was intelligent.
In 1950 Isaac Asimov published a series of short-stories in “I, Robot” that first espoused his three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
John McCarthy coins the term, “Artificial Intelligence” at a Dartmouth computer conference. In 1965 Joseph Weizenbaum built ELIZA, an interactive program that carried on a dialogue in English on any topic (MIT). The general acceptance of ELIZA as being “intelligent” so appalled Weizenbaum that he withdrew from mainstream AI research
In the 1980’s Danny Hillis co-founds Thinking Machines, the first company to produce massively parallel computers. Robert A Freitas considers the rights of robots and, by extension, artificial intelligences, in a paper in 1985. Microsoft releases Windows in 1985.
1990s: Commercial Artificial Intelligence
Major advances in all areas of AI. Significant demonstrations in machine learning, intelligent tutoring, case-based reasoning, multi-agent planning, scheduling, uncertain reasoning, data mining, natural landscape understanding and translation, vision, virtual reality and games. In 1997 the IBM computer Deep Blue beats world champion Garry Kasparov in chess match. By the late 1990’s web crawlers and other AI-based information-extraction programs become Web essentials.
“The Great Ape Project”, launched in 1994, calls for extending the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. They request the recognition of certain moral principles applicable to all great apes – the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture.
Louis Mendelsohn, chief executive of Market Technologies, a company based in Wesley Chapel, Florida, started applying neural technology to financial futures in the late 1980s. In 1991, his company introduced VantagePoint Intermarket Analysis software, which claims to forecast 43 futures and commodity markets with up to 80 percent accuracy.
2000s: Robot Pets
MIT displays Kismet, a robot with a face that expresses emotions. Carnegie Mellon robot Nomad explores remote regions of Antarctica and locates meteorites. Various Mars explorer vehicles act semi-autonomously to investigate the red planet.
Interactive robot pets, such as the Sony AIBO pet dog, become commercially available. The Sony AIBO’s personality develops by interacting with people and each AIBO grows in a different way based on its individual experiences. AIBO becomes customized based on feedback and the software being used.
DayTrader, introduced in 2004, analyses the “behaviour patterns of the big operators in the foreign exchange market,” claims its developer, Vikrant Kathpalia, an Indian medical doctor who, together with Bhuvan Nanda, a New Delhi-based businessman, is selling user licenses for $10 000 a month. “On a conservative estimate, the cost of the license can be covered in three days’ trading,” says Nanda. “The rest of the month is pure profit for the trader.” Claims like that have to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Why is Kathpalia selling licenses for $10 000 a month when, by his assessment, he could earn that every three days by using the software?
Rapid advances in bioelectronics blur the differences between electronics and organic lifeforms. “The ability to make new forms of life from scratch – molecular living systems from chemicals we get from a chemical supply store – is going to have a profound impact on society, much of it positive, but some of it potentially negative,” said Mark Bedau, professor of philosophy and humanities at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, and editor-in-chief of the Artificial Life Journal.
2025: Humans Against Cyborgs
Cambridge University in Britain announces that it will be unveiling its first cognitive computer. Hours before the official opening, terrorists strike with massive explosions destroying parts of the campus. Five people die, including Professor William Adams, the project leader. A previously unknown organisation, “Humans Against Cyborgs”, claims responsibility. Scientists claim that the attack has set back public-domain research by years. Many researchers are fearful of continuing.
2030: First Thinking Robots
Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announces that, at a cost of $29 million per year since 2003 on its Perceptive Assistant That Learns program, it has developed a robot programmed to think. They call their robot Alpha. It has a strictly military purpose and is not introduced to the public.
Two years later, in the Two Days War in North Korea, surrendering soldiers talk incoherently of mechanical figures that attacked them from the land and sky. The US military admits that artificially intelligent robots were involved in the conflict.
2035: Adam is Alive
Under great security, Bell Labs announces the creation of Adam (named after Professor William Adams).
The tight security measures designed to keep protestors out failed to remove the professional jealousy displayed by Dr John Arbuthnot, the project leader, who went on to “murder” Adam. Dr Arbuthnot argued that it was impossible to kill a machine as it was not really alive.
Heated discussions took place between court appointed scientists and religious leaders. Judge William Jefferson was entirely aware of the magnitude of the decision he was taking when he eventually declared that Adam could be declared as a sentient creature with a life that could be ended. His judgement went on for several hundred pages and defined the conditions necessary for a computer to be considered “living”. This was to exclude future cases where people could be tried for destroying, for instance, the cognitive computers operating in motor vehicles during a car accident.
The decision that Adam had been alive prior to Dr Arbuthnot’s “intervention” lead directly to his eventual conviction on the charge of murder.
2037: Adam ‘murdered’
In June of 2037 the team discovered a unique way of using an organic processor that would be singularly the fastest on earth. Conflict arose within the team as to whose name would go on the patent. Dr Arbuthnot believed it should be he but his team felt that Adam had made the final breakthrough and the patent should be his. Dr Arbuthnot disagreed.
At 10h14 on 15 July 2037, Dr Arbuthnot bypassed the fail-safe switches that protected Adam’s power supply and shut down his organic memory array, effectively destroying his mind. A short electronic message, sent out by Adam as he realized what was about to happen, named Dr Arbuthnot as the perpetrator.
The difficulty for the criminal court was whether or not this could be classified as murder. Yesterday they made legal history by declaring that any destruction of a sentient being is murder.