Do Creations Have Rights?

I enjoy going to the movies, and I don’t need my movies to be filmed in revolutionary ways or have unusually deep plot lines.  When it comes down to it I really want to be entertained for a few hours.  Recently I’ve noticed a current flowing through movies set in the not too distant future: Do things we create have inherent rights?

The first movie I remember having this theme was made in the 1980s, Short Circuit.  I loved this movie because not only did a robot get made, but somehow a lightning strike rendered him alive and apparently gave Johnny 5 a personality.  I’m no computer scientist, but I’m not sure a lightning strike would give a robot the ability to think, feel, and show emotion to humans.  The basic premise was that Johnny 5 wanted to stay alive by whatever means necessary.  At first he was a happy-go-lucky robot without a care in the world.  By the end of the movie he was actively fighting “the man” to keep himself alive.  I remember thinking as a child watching this movie that this was so ridiculous and that there would never be a day where computers would be able to think…guess I was wrong.

There have been other movies that have similar plot lines in some ways like Chappie and Wall-e, but I recently saw a movie that brings this issue to life for me in a way that I never thought about…

I’ve always loved the movie Jurassic Park, but for some reason I never thought we would get to a place in my lifetime that people would be splicing genes together to create new species.  I went and saw Jurassic World recently and it brought the issue of whether creations have rights.  At this point in the Jurassic series, there are people in the corporation that would like to turn some of the dinosaurs into weapons of war.  When they are questioned by other management/ownership level employees, one character makes the comment that, ” we created them, they have no rights.”  Other movies have attempted to bring up similar situations, but this one really stuck with me and made me think.

Seeing that I teach history, it got me thinking of historical situations that were similar to this.  Too often we focus on what we are doing in the moment without thinking about what may have happened in the past and how it can inform the present.  I came up with two parallels:

  • Slavery – Immediately my US History teacher brain went back to colonial slavery (although any slavery works for this).  We chose a group of people that only had a limited ability to fight back and we forced them to work for us.  This is similar only in so much as we took the inherent rights of all people that our European forefathers outlines for us in the English Bill of Rights and our US forefathers outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Were they of a different race?  Sure.  But they were still human beings that we subjugated and forced to do our bidding.  I think we can all look back and see why slavery is wrong, right?
  • Children – I’m not going to to claim to have the answers to this, but let’s just say that there are all kinds of debates going on about how much control parents have over their children.  It starts with the heated debate over abortion, and there are passionate arguments on both sides.  Moving forward a little bit, there are children who have divorced their parents…which seems weird to me.  I’ve even had arguments with my students in class about what rights children have.  There are a lot of hazy gray areas in the area of children and rights.  I’m not sure this helps do anything but muddy the waters on our current debate.

Reflecting a little bit on the history of rights and creation/subjugation, I would say that we need to think long and hard about the moral ramifications of creation.  If you neglect your child (or your pets even) you are considered a criminal.  Do those penalties follow us if we create a computer that learns, but we neglect it?  We are quickly moving from an age where we need to move away from the question of “can I create this?” and toward the questions of “should I create this?” and “what are the potential problems with creating this?”  Not that we’ll be able to predict everything, but we should at least try.

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