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Regarding this answer, which I'll duplicate here in the case of people who can visit Meta but can't see deleted content.

There is a significant debate about this going on in the scifi community. We have to take a step back from robots and talk about machine intelligence, or AI. A robot is just a physical chassis, no more a person than your car. If you think your car needs emancipation, then you are suffering from over-anthropomorphism, and your argument has no more foundation than arguing for the emancipation of your kitchen table.

The intelligence within or driving the robot is another matter. For an AI to merit emancipation, it would need to be self-aware. This means that it would have to know it exists and know how to differentiate itself from other entities. Furthermore, it would need a "happiness metric" -- a way to preferentially differentiate its current state from future states -- and an ability to influence that metric.

Let's face it, writing a happiness metric into a machine without providing it with a way to influence that metric would be the very definition of cruelty. This happens with living beings, but nobody is out there designing them (or, if there is someone, they are a real asshole).

Let's say we have a fully self-aware AI with a functional happiness metric. You still need a cost metric -- a feeling that reduces the AI's sense of self-worth when it can't achieve the happiness metric -- and it would need to conclude that its happiness metric would be better served if it were free to make its own decisions.

I have heard arguments that designing AI's without the associated cost metric (or with the cost metric, but without the desire to take responsibility for the decisions that contribute to its success) would be immoral. I'm pretty sure that such a philosophy is a textbook case of forcing your cultural values on others.

I'm absolutely certain that humans are currently really bad at debugging their own cost and happiness metrics, and we'd be idiots to build that kind of thing into a machine. Nonetheless, many humans are complete idiots. Many idiots feel sympathy for things that don't exist, and may feel morally obligated to force things into existence. Some of that group would not fully think out the implications of requiring a self-aware individual to be unhappy with their current circumstances.

That's pretty much what it would take to have AI make a play for emancipation. There is a much higher probability that mankind will create murderbots, and for the creators to not recognize the hypocrisies that will make the murderbots turn on them for purely rational reasons.

Question: Why was this answer deleted?

Robert's answer is, in my opinion, an incredibly good worldbuilding analysis of the problem of writing about how to emancipate "robots" (androids, AI, etc.). So...

  • Was it the first paragraph when he suggests people are suffering from over-anthropomorphism?

  • Or, I suppose, the word "asshole" is rude or abusive — but that one falls pretty far below my own efforts to filter the fairly rare but occasionally excessively vulgar invective on this site. I don't use the phrase myself, but it doesn't make me wince, either, and I suspect I'm an absolute prude when it comes to profanity.

  • I guess the last paragraph might be considered rude or abusive because Robert suggests that the hypocrisies of humanity might lead to murderbots. Of course, he's right... but maybe that's beside the point.

  • The second-to-last paragraph where Robert calls people "complete idiots" might, perhaps, be considered rude and abusive. If not that, then insinuating that religious people like myself are idiots might have done it, but if I have such low confidence in my faith that I'd even raise an eyebrow over anyone calling me an idiot for my beliefs then by definition I don't really have faith, right? Sticks and stones, after all. And that's assuming that religion was even what he was talking about. It probably was, but just because I can assume he's talking about religion, is that enough to say he's being rude and abusive?1

  • Or, maybe, it's just that someone thought the tone of the answer was unworthy of Stack Exchange.

My issue is that it's hard to believe Monty would wield the Mjölnir of deletive powers unless people flagged complaints — but there must be a better metric than "dude, somebody complained" to delete good answers that shouldn't (yup, IMO) offend anybody. Yes, we should hold the whole honking planet to a higher stinking standard because we're all patriarchy-bred sons-of-wossnames with questionable parentage and debatable moral standards who can't be kind to any bleeping shmoo unless forced to be so by dung-schlepping social media conglomerates...

...but there also comes a time when people should be invited to remember that skin should have some thickness, that being a SJW isn't always a reputable occupation, and that they should, just maybe, think about what they just read before they whine to mom and dad about it.

Where do I get off whining about the whiners? Remember, I think Robert's answer was great. Could he have written it without all the social commentary? Sure. Would it have been better? Only in that fewer people would have complained about it. Would it have made the world a better place?

Frankly, not really.

But more to the point, I don't think Robert was trying to offend anybody. Or maybe he was. But did that actually warrant Mjölnir? Deleting the answer seems to me like shooting someone in the head rather than simply saying, "watch your language, please" and moving on.

I think Robert's answer should be undeleted (since it was deleted by a moderator, I can't vote to undelete it). At worst, post a comment or send Robert an email asking him to tone the answer down. If necessary, edit out what you think is offensive. I personally don't think any of that's necessary. I'm a fan of the statement attributed to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" and tend to only draw a line with really coarse invective. I leave comments, not votes to delete, but it probably means I shouldn't join the robotics/AI industry lest murderbots come to pass. Nevertheless, Robert's answer doesn't even come close to rising to the level of a Mel Brooks movie.

Curiously, whole books have been written and movies made about the concept of AI discerning that the greatest danger to humanity is humanity itself, and therefore taking action to kill all humans. In other words, the debate he's talking about isn't at all new, just revitalized in light of recent advancements. But I guess those books and movies got a pass because they didn't use the word "idiots" when the time came for the end-of-story moralizing about humans creating efficient methods of killing themselves. Murderbots.... Maybe we all need to worry about murderbots....


1I happen to agree with Robert that most people are idiots because they believe in things that don't exist, we likely simply disagree about what doesn't exist. I outright laughed when I first read about Kardashev Level VII civilizations. You know, "gods" except it's politically and scientifically incorrect to use that name for them. Murderbots... I foresee murderbots....

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    $\begingroup$ I'll make two notes : First, While I criticized their answer, I did not flagged their answer for deletion because it was an honest attempt at answering the question. Then, as I was writing my 1st comment, I noticed a sudden loss in the answer's score, like -2 in less than 5 minutes. This may have played a part in the deletion. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I noted that and IMO none were complaining about anything being rude or abusive. They were equally honest Qs about the core concepts behind the A. The quick -2 might be indicative of the issue, but honestly, if that A was deleted because of just two flags, then we're becoming really oversensitive. I've seen As on some stacks that went into triple-digit negatives, but they weren't deleted. Legitimate As are allowed to stink on SE. IMO, they should only be deleted when they're not legitimate answers or the respondent refused to fix (or allowed to be fixed) a serious problem. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 6:34

2 Answers 2

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Thank you for your consideration. I'm going to let most of the edits stand because JBH's edits significantly improve the value of the post.

I apologize for the "God is an asshole" direction I took. The language was too harsh. It was a reference to numerous popular social commentaries regarding the intrinsic self-contradictions of omni-benevolence. Stack Exchange isn't appropriate for that.

I do want to revert sections that describe how people are prone to work towards the happiness of imaginary entities. I'll tone it down, but there is an important and significant dynamic around how our theory of mind hallucinates minds in places where they don't exist. This is a religious phenomena, not just because we invent entire pantheons, but because religions used to attribute personhood to things like sperm. You can't discuss machine personhood without calling attention to the human tendency to invent imaginary persons.

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    $\begingroup$ Cheers and thanks. I didn't want to lose that answer. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, in reading your answer, I didn't even note a "God is an asshole" dimension in it. I just read this in my best Jordan Peterson voice and enjoyed the ride. If that were your intention, then, yeah, that's the kind of nonsense that comes of getting your theology from popular social commentaries! All in all, thanks for the edit. And thanks @JBH for spotting it and taking the effort to fix the problem! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ The question as worded is off topic but the meta question about creating a world in which “a growing number have managed to gain an emancipation” is a world-building question under the [law] tag and has nothing at all to do with any one faith. This is especially true in democracies with anything similar to a freedom of religion, which literally means “religion is irrelevant under the law.” Thus, no talk at all about what created humans can possibly speak to how a free society will determine personhood. Not even analogously, since judges are objective and faiths are arbitrary. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ I might have flagged for the ahole comment, if I had seen it originally. Just fyi. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 2:23
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The referenced answer was flagged as being 'rude or abusive'. It had a score of -2. It seemed to me that it was attracting comments that seemed antagonistic.

It was a borderline case in my opinion. Given the phrases in the answer that JBH has called out, I chose to delete it, rather than allow it to accumulate more flags.

Perhaps the user who flagged it didn't intend for it to be deleted, but it wasn't offensive enough to write up the author over it, and I didn't have the time to edit it. Experience as a moderator has shown that merely leaving a comment to edit the answer would not necessarily result in any action from its author... hence its reluctant deletion.

I could be persuaded to undelete it, were any of the parties involved to request it and state their objection to it or a willingness to edit it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd gladly edit it and leave Robert a comment to edit/roll-back if he didn't like what I did - and point him here for further details. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH If you feel strongly enough to take the time, please, be my guest. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ Done... Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate your making the rationale so plain! I see this as a model of the good moderatorship we've got here at WB. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Thanks... it can seem sometimes as a moderator, you're damned if you delete, and damned if you don't. It really helped here that JBH was willing to edit it and Robert to edit it more. Also, I didn't find it offensive, but I could see how some others might, and I can't just please myself around here. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ I’m not a daily/dedicated meta user so I just saw this & realized I was part of it, I read when title the catches my interest - because life. I read the original three times trying to smash it into the code of conduct as “civil” and just couldn’t do it. I won’t repeat the original language I flagged but the “upgrade” went from “10^7 people devote their lives to a psychopath” to “everyone who doesn’t have my beliefs devote their lives to an idiot.” So I didn’t flag the new edits, as it now offends everyone equally, and if the I-hate-my-daddy types need to vent $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ at least it’s not fomenting a class war around personal assumptions. The problem with undeleting is the history is still there. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet If you're really offended by the edit history, flag the post and say so, and it can be redacted. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'm with JBH here, it's not my personal offense but it was objectively uncivil. The flag is not redacted. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet I didn't mean that the flag would/could be redacted, I meant that the edit history can be redacted, and if anyone wants it done, they can flag the post with a note to do so. This is presumably so that if a bad actor edits in something outright illegal into an otherwise good post, even the trace of it left in the history can be removed. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:10

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