On December 8, 2013 Wendell Wallach spoke on “Animal/Human/Corporation/Robot: Appropriating ‘Personhood’ for Different Purposes” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.
Wendell Wallach is a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He chairs the Center’s working research group on Technology and Ethics and is a member of other research groups on Animal Ethics, End of Life Issues, Neuroethics, and PTSD. Wendell co-authored (with Colin Allen) Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong (Oxford University Press 2009), which maps the new field of enquiry variously called machine ethics, machine morality, computational morality, or friendly AI.
Formerly, he was a founder and the President of two computer consulting companies, Farpoint Solutions and Omnia Consulting Inc. Among the clients served by his companies were PepsiCo International, United Aircraft, and the State of Connecticut.
Wendell also serves on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT and is an associate editor for the journal TopiCS in Cognitive Science. His hobby/avocation is building stained glass windows. He is presently writing a book on the societal, ethical, and public policy challenges arising from technologies that enhance human faculties by altering the mind/body. Another book in progress explores the ways in which cognitive science, new technologies, and introspective practices are altering our understanding of human decision-making and ethics.
The Personhood Beyond the Human conference was organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Yale’s Animal Ethics Group and Yale’s Technology and Ethics Group.
Abstract: Historically some humans (women, children, and slaves) have been denied full legal protection as persons. Today, there are calls for granting personhood to not only non-human animals but also to heads and bodies that have been cryogenically preserved and to data histories that have been uploaded. The term ‘personhood’ has and is being appropriated by different groups for very different purposed. But they all share an interest in the legal rights of the species and entities to whom the term might be applied. Whether this means the groups have much in common and should unite to collectively exert their political might is another matter.
Critics have been concerned that demanding rights as patients for non-human animals damages the human rights movement. And I have been critical that speculations as to whether future robots might be designed legal persons and moral agents should enter into policy discussions regarding the development of lethal autonomous robots and service robots.
In this presentation I will explore whether much commonality exists among the various movements to establish personhood for non-human animals and transhuman ‘bemens’. Does, for example, an intellectual interested in the meaning and application of ‘personhood’ constitute a shared interest, or is the illusion of a shared interested being created where it does not exist?