The Ethical Opportunity of Machine Consciousness

The creation of machine consciousness has the potential to be the most radically beneficial event in the history of the universe. While extravagant, this statement is not hyperbole. There are only a few (not uncontroversial) premises to this position:


  1. The fields of computer hardware, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and artificial intelligence continue to advance. While the rates of advancement are uneven, it may be possible to solve the hard problem of consciousness – explaining how materiality gives rise to consciousness. This could give us the capacity to recreate the necessary material conditions to generate consciousnesses without having to give birth to them biologically.
  2. The field of positive psychology continues to advance. It may become possible not just to create consciousnesses, but to create them in such a way that they are radically positive.
  3. Creating consciousnesses in digital machines could enable many, many consciousnesses to be created within a very short amount time, in a very small amount of space, and with relatively low energy requirements. If so, billions or trillions more consciousnesses than were possible before could be added to the population of the universe.
  4. Because identity is not static over time, the person you become in the future is ethically equivalent to the person sitting across the room from you, the person they become in the future, and the person that will exist long after either of you are dead. Improving the life conditions of any of these people are ethically equivalent. Likewise, it does not matter whether the person being impacted is machine or biological.
    1. A corollary to this is that it is not who is impacted that matters, but the fact that some positive, or more positive, experience has been generated.
    2. A second corollary is that it is the total degree of positivity of experiences in the world that is most ethically significant, rather than who is having those experiences.
  5. Improving the lives of those who are suffering and generating new people with positive experiences are in principle ethically equivalent, as long as the net increase in the total positivity of experiences is equivalent.


Conclusion: Generating billions or trillions of positive machine experiences would radically improve the total goodness of the universe.