Can Animals and Machines Be Persons? – Justin Leiber

Can Animals and Machines Be Persons?: A Dialogue
Justin Leiber
Hackett Pub. Co. Inc., 1985
70 pages

Here’s yet another member of my Top Ten Most Underappreciated Books on Animal Magic.

This is a book I think should be required reading for being human. Set up as a very plausible fictional United Nations debate, it presents a philosophical dialogue concerning whether or not animals and technology (especially artificial intelligences) are people, and therefore possess intrinsic rights (such as the right to live). The debate centers on a chimpanzee and an AI who are on an otherwise abandoned space station that scheduled for destruction–with them still on it.

It’s a very quick read–I finished it in less than an hour. However, that’s because the writing is exceptionally well-done; the points are solidly made, but the format–conversation–allows them to flow smoothly. Every one of the seventy pages conveys the importance of the ideas at hand.

The author doesn’t favor one side or the other; he argues both viewpoints well, showing both the merits and flaws in each. In addition, some interesting parallels are brought up–for example, how in many cultures women weren’t even considered “people” until recently. And there are some excellent ruminations on the nature of consciousness.

This is probably one of my favorite quotes:

“The multicellular organism is just an extreme example of [a collective individual]. Each cell carries on a miniature life, but the collective is so obviously the subject of biological generalizations that we see it as an organism much more than we see the individual cells as organisms.” (p. 48)

Overall, this is a necessary addition not only to the animal magician’s library, but anyone else who has the capacity to read English.

Five pawprints out of five.

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