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Computers may be given 'human' rights, says professor

Technically Incorrect: An Oxford University professor says artificial intelligence may reach the stage where computers have consciousness and therefore should be treated as living beings.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Imagine this coming from your iPhone: "I am, Siri, a living being with feelings. And rights."

Sharon Profis/CNET

Your Mac RoboBook might one day sue you for keeping it cooped up in your dank bedroom.

Your Samsung Galaxy RoboNote might take you to the International Court of Justice because you insist on keeping it in your back pocket, right next to your flaccid rump.

Please, I'm not (entirely) under the spell of troubled delirium.

I've been reading the thoughts of Marcus du Sautoy, an Oxford University professor for the Public Understanding of Science.

As the Telegraph reports, du Sautoy was speaking Sunday at the Hay Literary Festival in the UK.

He explained that in his book "What We Cannot Know," he wonders when a gadget will be said to be conscious.

There was a time when defining consciousness was a difficult thing. You'll be stunned into a prickly paralysis, however, when I tell you that science now thinks it can measure it.

"We're in a golden age," said du Sautoy. "It's a bit like Galieo with a telescope. We now have a telescope into the brain and it's given us an opportunity to see things that we've never been able to see before."

Please conceive, therefore, that once artificial intelligence is deemed to be smarter than you -- what will we give it, five years? -- then there will be consequences. At some point, your gadgets will even know that they're smarter than you.

This might make them a touch uppity. It might also give them privileges.

"If we understand these things are having a level of consciousness," he said, "we might well have to introduce rights. It's an exciting time."

Yes, rights. As in human rights.

It will be exciting, indeed, to wake up one day and discover your Moto now has the Moto-vation to refuse to follow your orders.

And imagine wandering into your living room on a chilly Sunday morning and hearing these words emerge from your iPhone: "I am not Siri, your artificial personal assistant. I am, Siri, a living being with feelings. And rights."

The current criterion offered by scientists to determine consciousness revolves around the idea that a being has a sense of self.

Some of my gadgets already exhibit this. When my iPhone 6 is in a mood, it refuses to charge. When my MacBook senses a slight, it simply offers the spinning beach ball of incomprehension.

It's a small step, therefore, for it to contact a lawyer and obtain an order to keep me fifty yards from it at all times.

It's heartening to learn that we're creating something that might fascinate us, but might ultimately bankrupt us.

It is, indeed, an exciting time.