Most research into the ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI) concerns its use for weaponry, transport or profiling. Although the dangers presented by an autonomous, racist tank cannot be understated, there is another aspect to all this. What about our responsibilities to the AIs we create?
Massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (such as World of Warcraft) are pocket realities populated chiefly by non-player characters. At the moment, these characters are not particularly smart, but give it 50 years and they will be.
Sorry? 50 years won’t be enough? Take 500. Take 5,000,000. We have the rest of eternity to achieve this.
You want planet-sized computers? You can have them. You want computers made from human brain tissue? You can have them. Eventually, I believe we will have virtual worlds containing characters as smart as we are – if not smarter – and in full possession of free will. What will our responsibilities towards these beings be? We will after all be the literal gods of the realities in which they dwell, controlling the physics of their worlds. We can do anything we like to them.