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25.6.16

Dawn Of Personhood,Part 1

We had several major geo-political tremors this week.  As I write this (Friday), it looks like Brexit is in the lead by less than a million votes.  Can't cut it much finer than that, and I still don't believe it will happen, regardless of the vote.  Too much riding on it.

There's the story about Obama getting his Executive Orders handed back to him, as well.  Nothing could make me happier.  The president of the US has gotten too sloppy and lazy with these EOs.  The country doesn't have a king or a dictator (yet), or so it seems after the Supreme Court ruling.  It also shuts down the wholesale importation of immigrants and all the amnesty rubbish.  Still, a lot remains to be determined when it comes to presidential powers and Obama's determination to destroy American culture.  Honestly, if the country wants to give itself away, why not hand it back to the folks who were the original inhabitants?  But then, those cultures have long been destroyed, as well.

Out of all the big stories, though, the biggest comes from the EU parliament, and it has nothing to do with Brexit.  It has everything to do with robots and may go a long way to kick-starting a conversation that should have started a long time ago.

Topic: What do we do when machines take all the jobs?

In short, the EU has decided to give "electronic personhood" to robots, to include certain rights and obligations, such as copyright on intellectual property, the use of money in exchange and the need to pay taxes.  In effect, the EU has extended the rights of corporations to individual machines, known commonly as robots.

In case you haven't kept up your law degree for some time, the legal term "person" is a non-corporeal being created by the State, which has rights and obligations similar to corporeal citizens.  Keep in mind, too, that a citizen is a living being, though not necessarily a human.  In maritime law, a corporeal being is generally referred to as a "soul," which distinguishes it from cargo and other valuables.

The legal terminology is very convoluted, but suffice it to say that the EU has effectively imbued robots with individual identity and freedom.

Of the major news stories this week, I think this will have effects long after everyone has forgotten Obama or Brexit.  We are talking decades if not centuries will be affected by this decision.  It's that important.

As I've discussed here many times, corporate entities are a very old concept in Western law.  Unlike Asia, where officers and employees are individually liable for the actions of the whole, the Western concept separates the corporation from the individuals who make it up.  The concept is rooted in the theology surrounding Matthew 18:20, "For where two or more are gathered in my name, there too am I," or variations to that effect.  Thus, the Roman Church became an entity unto itself, wholly separate from the individuals who make it up, and as Western law evolved, corporations became the secular version of the Church.

To distinguish what are known as "legal fictions," such as corporations, they were termed "persons" under the law, as opposed to "human beings."  A "person" could have self-determination and own property, but it didn't have a "soul" or a "conscience."  Thus, the person had to be completely controlled and regulated by the State, since its actions may constitute a hazard that a human being might avoid by virtue of a conscience.

In modern Western societies, even human beings have been turned into persons, often referred to as "straw men" by so-called conspiracy theorists, so that the State could have the "right" to regulate and control every aspect of our lives - a concept deeply foreign to older ways of thinking, but which took hold in US law in the first half of the 20th century.

By granting robots "electronic personhood," the EU has created a new class of "person" that will at least have many of the legal characteristics of a corporation.  It would have the right to autonomy within the limits of the law.  It would be able to create and own property.  It would be empowered to operate in the economy as an individual, and it would have to pay taxes.

Where things get a bit murky is how those taxes would be allocated.  Some would pay into what amounts to an insurance pool to cover damages and liabilities incurred by robot persons.  It would also feed the State with its labor, much as humans do now.  It would, though still controversial, also pay into a fund to guarantee a minimal income to humans displaced by robots in the workforce.

Humans displaced by technology is nothing new.  The invention and widespread use of cars led to the near extinction of blacksmiths and livery stables.  Jethro Tull's harvester put thousands of farmers out of business and led to the rise of agribusiness.  Autolooms and sewing machines put thousands of seamstresses and weavers out of work.  Even the electric light bulb led to the demise of the lamp-lighter.

However, in most cases one innovation killed one class of jobs, but led to new ones.  Printers became pressmen.  Blacksmiths became mechanics.  Cobblers became shoe-repairmen, and so on.

What do you do when a machine is capable of replacing an entire human being?

An interesting and impending philosophical question.

How do you compete with a "person" that never needs a smoke break or a meal, never gets sick or pregnant, works 24/7 without a vacation or even sleep time, can be amortized as a capital investment, and can be taught a new task in seconds - even able to analyze and improve it functions as it goes?

We are staring down the barrel of the end of all jobs everywhere for all time.  On the one hand, that could mean that humans will finally be free to pursue self-improvement and self-actualization.  More than likely, though, given humanity's track record, it will lead to the vast majority of humans descending into abject poverty, death and misery.

Basically, it creates two entirely separate cultures.  Since humans would never allow themselves to obsolete that way, they will reject everything automated and create a new economy  This would obviously create an elite class that would no longer depend on the rest of us, and who would likely pursue a different course.

So, how would this play out?

That is a very interesting question, and now that I've set up the scenario, you'll have to wait for Part 2 to play the "What If" game.  We are likely seeing all the pieces in motion right now.  The question becomes, when will the hammer drop?

PART 2

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