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Civil Rights For Aliens? 315

CoolBoys writes "Has anyone considered what would happen if first contact is made, and some alien (say, a Vulcan?) wants to stay on earth for a while. He has no acceptable passport, right? Does he even have any rights? What about rights for other sentient life forms (AI, perhaps?)"
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Civil Rights For Aliens?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I love you Annette
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What if a South American cannibal tribe moved to New York City and started eating people. What would we do? Why is an extra-terrestrial different? And you may want to be careful about defining something immoral. As long at it's not illegal, for the most part people don't care if it's immoral.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well, the aliens aren't human beings, so would our laws that are made for us also apply for them? They would be more like animals in that sense. However, then again maybe not. We would have something in common; intelligence. Maybe we would reat them well because of that, only.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What's with the TROLLBAIT???
  • Ah, slashdot in the spring...
  • Are you still beating your wife?

    Only at Total Annihilation...she crushes me at Starcraft.

  • I would like to say that this is the worst Ask Slashdot EVER!
  • Why? Do you want to ban racial interbreeding too? And if we have a continuum of individuals ranging from "most definitely gorilla" to "most definitely human" what about your "absolutely"?

    I recommend giving everyone the rights they need no matter what race, species or whatever they are.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Were the british, french, spanish, portugese and italians more morally advanced than the native peoples they killed and subjegated? No, they were simply barbarians with better technology that enabled them to kill and subjagate everyone they met.

    Don't assume that aliens are coming here to be our friends, that could be a lethal mistake that leaves your children as slaves, or worse, food.

    On the other hand, they may be as you say and all be born as Saints.

    The point that I am trying to make is this: Don't assume. They may be our best friends and only want the best for us, or they might be the cruelist fiends that we could never even imagine. Just because they have technology that lets them travel the stars says nothing about their motives or their moral development.
  • by Micah ( 278 )
    That's what I thought.

    An alien from outer space visits us. We could learn all sorts of things, and there could be all sorts of trouble.

    And we're worried that he doesn't have a valid passport???
  • Post or moderate? Ah, my first experience with the dilemma.

    What dilemma? If you want to shoot down what he said that you DO NOT use moderation to do that. You post a reply, like you did. The sort of spiteful "I disagree therefore I will moderate you down" attittude is NOT what moderation is for. I say that comment was perfectly on-topic and valid, even though I agree with you that the poster is off his rocker. (Whales and dolphins are smarter than the average animal, but they cannot become anything close to being as smart as humans because they lack the physical ability to manipulate their environs (hands). They lack this ability to fiddle with things - a crucial ingredient for a baby learning how to think. Apes are way smarter than whales and dolphins, because they actually have hands with which to learn things about the world around them.)

  • this is true, as long as your definition of intelligence is based around human criteria
    Yeah, "human" criteria like being able to actually understand the world around you. That requires the ability to experiment with that world. You have to have hands, pseudopods, manipulating cillia, telekenisis, SOMETHING with which to 'play' with the stuff of the world. How is something supposed to become intelligent if it can't experiment?
  • You've been watching too much self-praising ecospeak.

    You've been watching too much Star Trek.
  • This was IMHO a dumb question, but I'm bored...and I'll jump in.

    Civil Rights? They'd have none because...
    (Assuming they end up in the US)
    1. They are not a US Citizen
    2. Thier "government" has not signed any UN, ICJ or World Court agreements that establish Civil or Human Rights that the US has signed.

    Same pretty much goes wherever the alien ends up. In China? They'd imprison it, find it guilty and sell the organs to the highest bidder.

    So wheel that critter on in and let's alien autopsy his/her/it's ass.
  • First off, I'm assuming that this is the case where aliens come to make contact with humans on Earth, and not vice versa. The balance of power is very heavily weighted in favor of the party that's going out and making contact on the other party's territory. Our own history of the European settlement of the Americas and Australia shows this quite clearly, and in that case both parties were of the same species. With the even greater potential for misunderstanding between different species, in the long term such contact is going to be even more messy.

    Anyhow, the short answer, any human government with good sense will treat alien visitors like visiting royalty, or at a minimum, like foreign diplomats with immunity to local laws. Any being with the technology to cross the interstellar gap is powerful enough to threaten every living being on Earth, so it only makes sense to treat them very carefully, avoiding giving offense or letting them come to harm.

    Scientist and science fiction author Charles Pellegrino has pointed out that the energy needed to accelerate a spaceship up to nearly the speed of light is astronomical, and could do unbelievable damage. Life-bearing planets are large and move slowly and predictably, and it's impossible to defend against something coming at you almost before you detect it. If a missile of large mass travelling at 0.99c were to collide with a planet, it would do damage that makes the dinosaur killer look like peanuts. This scenario is graphically portrayed in his novel The Killing Star, which posits that this is the reason why we haven't detected any alien intelligences. It's impossible to defend your homeworld against this sort of attack, so the only rational thing to do is be as invisible as possible, and then go around killing potential threats before they materialize.

    Even without planet-killers used by a Berserker race, and hypothesizing some sort of FTL travel with much lower energy, there are lots of ways star-faring aliens could do serious harm to Earth people. The short story "The Flies of Memory" had a particularly amusing example. In it, aliens looking like giant mosquitos came to Earth to tour our famous landmarks. After a human lunatic killed one, it was discovered that the things the aliens view become tied to them in their memory, such that if the alien dies, all of the landmarks it remembers ceases to exist.

    And this is just addressing potential physical harm. I imagine that no matter what they do, any visiting aliens would irreparably transform the human psyche. First contact is rather a cultural singularity - after it, everything will be different. Assuming aliens trying to minimize the damage to our worldview, just the demonstration of non-human intelligence and the technology they possess will be a huge hurdle.

    So, I guess I'm with the cynics on this one. If aliens come to Earth, the question is not so much what rights they have (in all likelihood, they have enough power to do whatever the hell they please), and the real disturbing issue is how the poor indigenes (ie, us) will fare. Our own history is a pretty disturbing precedent.

    First contact and its effects have been discussed and thought about in written science fiction for decades. There are many more stories than the ones I mentioned above considering angles of this issue, so you might want to take a trip to the library.

  • Are you crazy? Supporting dictatorial regimes whos lax or non-existant human rights laws guarantees cheap goods to western consumers. That's just nuts. Are you saying that you'd really rather pay a few dollars more for a t-shirt just so that the person who made it can earn a decent wage and help their families get out of poverty? Crazy person. Don't you know that the only important thing is for our decent, kindhearted, concerned western corporations is to make money?
  • Your question is predicated on the assumption that aliens are not already here and (pick any combo):

    1. Living among us
    2. Being hosted in secret by major world superpowers
    3. Being disected in secret by major world superpowers or
    4. Died because they couldn't stand some simple bacteria in the air

    That should about cover the main sceneros. Oh wait, I almost forgot: writing entries for the Hitchhiker's Guide. . .


  • I think one of the main questions here is what does it mean to be human? Does homo sapien == human? This is obviously a philosophical question and art tends to do a good job addressing philosophical questions. The best work of art I've seen that addresses this is Ghost in the Shell followed closely by Blade Runner (esp The Director's Cut), which also happen to be my favourite two films of all time. While they're more centered around androids & AI, I think the same issues would apply to extraterestrials. Check them out.


  • A novel which gives a reasonable view of what might happen... If a sentient alien were to land in Canada, anyway. God forbid if one lands south of the border. :)
  • Just rent the movie MEN IN BLACK.


  • The human race had just gotten warp technology no longer than 20 minutes ago when the vulcans showed up.
    Since I'm not a trekkie, I'm tickled, so I have to ask. Where did you get that information???


  • Forget space aliens. Look at how the US, and many other, governments treat people from other countries. It's often hard to even travel between countries and moving or working in another country is an impossible pain. To get into the US and be able to get a decent job you have to go through hoops. And the worse the place you come from the less likely you'll be allowed to stay. It's nothing but government sponsored discrimination against people for something they are born with. I certainly didn't pick to be born in the US and am quite certain that other people don't choose to be born in 3rd world hell. Even reasonably well educated and non-criminal people have a hard time moving here. Lots of excuses are given why we need immigration laws but they all remind me of why we need slavery or why women can't work or homosexuals can't get married.
  • As the other reply pointed out, you do indeed get to be a legal resident if you marry a U.S. citizen.

    A lot of people seem to think this is some kind of evil loophole, and it certainly does get abused. But, how do you think an American citizen would react if they were to find that they were effectively prohibited from marrying someone from another country?

    It seems to me there's about as much likelihood - and maybe less - of this law ever changing, as there is of private gun ownership being made illegal. Both go to very basic issues of citizen freedom.

  • Well, I hope that the first extra-terrestrials on Earth are the Organians. If you recall, they're the ones who enforce the truce between the Federation and the Romulans--by making all their weapons red-hot when they try to use them against each other. They could do wonders in the middle east!

    Second choice: the space hippies. You know, the drums, funny ears (natch)... Herbert! Herbert! And damn, I'll bet you can grow some good smoke in zero-g.

    Third choice: Wookies. They're big, furry, pretty peaceful, and make cute noises... what more do you want? I just hope that they're not all too popular with the ladies.

    LAST choices: The Borg, if they're not here already; that Zorn lizard-thing that Cap'n Kirk had to bop in the head with a homemade cannon; Cats--I don't want 'em setting up us the bomb.
  • As does the alien's response:

    No peace...
  • We were not a space faring race when the vulcans showed up, we had just been lucky enough to have a nut job who wanted to try out his experimental rocket around the same time the vulcans were in the neighbourhood.

    With regards to such evolutionary technology, a race is considered to "have" that technology when it is first demonstrated to work. It implies nothing about the subsequent use or distribution of that technology.

  • Consider the nature of the question: how would we deal with non-human intelligence if presented with it? The poster replied with examples of how we deal with sentient or near-sentient animals that are native to our own planet. We know how intelligent dolphins and whales are, and yet countries like Iceland, Japan, and Norway are still happily killing them for no clear reason. For that matter, scientists also know that the octopus is on the verge of self awareness, yet people thing nothing at all of eating one.

    The fact is that as much as I don't like it, Mao's old maxim, that "Power eminates from the barrel of a gun" holds true. The reason we don't care about/respect the intelligence of non-human organisms is that they're not in a position to fight back against us. The main reason we'd have to respect an alien intelligence would be because they could toast our butts if we didn't. I suspect, though, that if they were smarter/more technologically advanced than us and thought we looked tasty, we'd have a hard time arguing for our lives considering the human race's own record of dealing with other creatures, even those whose intelligence is surely higher than that of some people you probably know. (and you know that a dolphin is smarter than your boss)

  • How does one recognise self-independence or sovereignty? Our legal system does pose some administrative bottlenecks (e.g. citizenship and passports) but the systems are usually flexible enough to adapt (though not always painlessly or quickly). For example, the Mabo case which overturned the doctrine of Terra Nullus (the preassumption that Australia was *NOT* inhabitied at the time despite the presence of natives). All the property rights have derived from (OK nicking the place by teh British crown) this early premise and the recent overturn has meant a period of uncertainty as everything is renogotiated. If a superior civilisation did discover Earth, we might be in the position of trying to prove we actually deserve to cohabit this portion of the galaxy (which may prove bloody). As Napolean once said, God is on the side with the biggest guns. Legally, I suppose that the UN would try to ascertain the formal government structure and then organise some sort of protocol. The biggest problem here is whether any of our concepts of governance overlap? For example, supposing they come in and ask for our souls (or equivalent exotic) but we don't recognise the concept. This is much like asking the aborigines for spectrum rights 100 years ago. But once the xenolinguists figure out what conceptual basis of self-control exists, you can progressively match them up with human equivalents (e.g. refugee status) for which there are well established precedences. With formal recognition comes diplomatic rights (or at least the human equivalent). Great civilisations in the past managed to exchange people and even trade (Europe/China in Renaissance) but the evidence also exists that imposing a predetermined mindset can be harmful (e.g. Catholic conversion of the Americas). If you assume that the Prime Directive is a binding law then it is likely that it arose out of historical precedences on their side so again you'd be able to figure out the philosophy and draw upon human parallels.

    An interesting question is can you figure out a culture's philosophy merely from a limited sample of their language? For example, if you make the assumption that since Vulcans have some telephathic ability, then the concept of lying might be foreign to them (cognitive dissonance). Their c'thia (truth) would be OK in the physical sciences (after all the laws of physics can't be broken) but would they understand commerce or the art of illusions/humor? Their Kh'askpetheya'th (definition of thought) would quite likely lead to different values reflected in the kro'el (way). Afterall c'thia (logic, reality-truth) is rooted in our perception of the world which is highly colored by social interaction.

    BTW I recall there was a some mention of trying to simulate what the evolution of Vulcan would be based on biogeophysical developments (e.g. hotter sun, less water, etc) but is there any further work?

  • As with any other newly formed nation, the aliens would need to establish some form of diplomatic recognition with one or mother nations on earth. There are well established protocols for doing this already, which have been used numerous times over last century, at least. Once the aliens had been recognized as a group by one or more nations, the alien 'nation' would be able to issue passports to it's citizens, establish diplomatic missions to earthly nations and do all sorts of other stuff that your run-of-the-mill earthly nations do. Aliens visiting a nation would have the same sorts of rights (or lack thereof) that any non-resident human would have.

    Before you get all hot and bothered about rights for artificial intelligences, maybe you should consider the difficulties of recognizing naturally occurring non-human intelligence within current legal systems. I don't think it very likely that whales, dolphins or chimpanzees are going to be recognized as legal 'people' no matter what kinds of intelligence they can be shown to posess. When the intelligent entity happens to be entirely constructed by intentional human endeavor, however, I suspect that recognition as anything other than an owned and ownable object is out of the question.

  • It's not instant, and it's certainly not cheap.

    I was effectively deported after my wedding. The INS do not work to any particular timetable. For a while it looked like I would not be allowed back in the US to see my son born.

    If you ever want to see the outermost circle of hell, a place where no hope exists, go down to your local INS waiting room.

  • by Aphexian ( 29497 )
    This Ask Slashdot is so lame it doesn't deserve a FP?? Never thought I'd see the day.
  • Don't you run a comic shop in Springfield? Doh!
  • Huh? Many countries eat dogs, but we don't. We eat cows, but they're sacred in India. In Africa monkeys and gorilla's are just as good "bush meat" as elephants or antelope... and so it goes. We spare dolphins because they're smart/cute, eat pigs who are smart/ugly, but for some reason won't eat rats, although other countries will. In the Phillippines they eat rotting eggs containing half-developed chicks as a delicacy.

    So will we eat aliens? I'd say it's a fair bet that someone might.
  • Clearly gentlemen like this are Gore voters.
    Those who believe in White power are extreme RIGHT-WING types, so they were more apt to vote for the idiot son of one of the worst presidents the U.S. has ever had over a "liberal". That guy would probably call Al Gore a "nigger lover" would NEVER vote for him.

    I haven't made up my mind on whether you are truly clueless and don't know what you are talking about, or if you are extremely clever and are recruiting potential converts for the Republican Party []...
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • Don't you actually have to be a convict or a child to be "taken off the streets" as you say?
    Nope. In some neighborhoods in the U.S. all you have to be is minority...
    If someone isn't hurting anyone, no one has the right to restrict them from walking free.
    Tell that to the White cop pointing a gun at you just because you are Black or Chicano. Are you gonna argue with him and take the risk of getting shot or are you just going to submit quietly?
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • Think about it. When an illegal alien comes into the USA what happens? They get a FREE place to stay until there's enough of them for the border patrol to take back. Then there's the FREE ride back to their country. Sometimes there is even a FREE dinner involved.
    If I had a penny every time a tiny-brained racist pendejo said something stupid, I would be richer than Bill Gates...
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • I can't think of any major science fiction movie where the aliens showed any interest in anything of the Nazis.
    On television there was the Star Trek TOS episode with the Nazi planet []...
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • I'd think the state department would be getting in contact with them to arrange diplomatic relations and exchange of culture, software, etc.
    I hope the State Department doesn't give the aliens any Microsoft software. That probably would be reason enough for them to destroy the Earth. :->
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • As long they undergo a naturalization process, and follow the rules set within, then, as far as I am concerned, they can stay.. We (US) has enought illegal aliens to want to worry about ones NOT from Mexico and SE Asia.
    So if you are an illegal alien from Canada then the U.S. Government should not worry about you because of all the illegal aliens who are Mexican and Asian? Hmmm... were you born an IDIOT or did you become one recently?
    You think being a MIB is all voodoo mind control? You should see the paperwork!
  • There was no Star Trek V
    What are you talking about?
    1. The Motion Picture
    2. The Wrath of Kahn
    3. The Search for Spock
    4. The Voyage Home
    5. The Final Frontier
    6. The Undiscovered Country
    7. Generations
    8. First Contact
    9. Insurrection

    Patrick Doyle
  • by W-God ( 42352 )
    Hey. I say rules are rules. You just can't fly up to a planet in an unregistered craft, make an unauthorized landing and then go on to break every other rule that we have created to keep the peace.
  • man, you could have waited one more day
  • fucking bite me. My moronic posts fit in quite snugly with the rest of slashdot. As for my "outright insulting" statements, at least I have the balls to put my name to em.
  • No but what I was saying was that in Kirk and TNG ega they are very technical about the prime directive. Not really worried about the intent of it, just that it's a rule and they have to abide by it. The vulcans had a similar policy when they first came in contact with earth (this is stated in First Contact I think, or I heard it in one of the series). One would not think vulcans would be so technical about their rules. You would figure a vulcan would never follow a law that they didn't understand the logic behind. As other posts here have indicated, perhaps showing up as soon as someone figures out warp travel is a good thing, to stop them from trampling on other people's territory, but my opinion was that the prime directive was there to let non space faring races live in blissful ignorance of the rest of the galaxy. Only after it is imminent that the race will discover other species in the galaxy is it important to make contact with them. I dont think waiting the 20 minutes or whatever after the first warp flight was demonstrating the imminency of humans finding the other inhabitants of the galaxy. Cochran could have gone home, looked at his numbers and convinced himself that he had only gone "really fast" not faster than light and thrown his research away.

    Anyway, I feel about 20% geekier, how about you? :)
  • what I thought was funny about First Contact was that the vulcans were totally technical about their prime directive just like the federation. ie. The human race had just gotten warp technology no longer than 20 minutes ago when the vulcans showed up. How exactly is that honouring the spirit of the prime directive. We were not a space faring race when the vulcans showed up, we had just been lucky enough to have a nut job who wanted to try out his experimental rocket around the same time the vulcans were in the neighbourhood.
  • He often gave the secret of warp technology to blue chicks on dates.
  • And, like, who's going to argue with an alien species that has the technology and wherewithal to travel thousands of light years?

    While it may have worked in the movie "Independence Day", I doubt we'd have a real prayer if they decided that they wanted human shiskabob or something.

  • Whether aliens would get any civil rights would probably depend a lot on chance, seeing as what civil rights include is a pretty arbitrary thing. Whether they would have any civil rights would just be a matter of how the government in their particular locale decided to treat them. As others here have been fond of pointing out, civil rights are noticed more in the violation than the observance.

    The real question is what kind of rights we think they ought to have, and that depends on what you think of natural rights. Aquinas based them on a fellow-feeling among all of humanity, and seeing as this compassion was the will of God, you had a legal obligation to respect them. Aliens, not being human, and thus not that object which the Bible commands you to love, would not be entitled to these rights.

    If you're a Hobbesian, however, then these aliens would need to have no greater fear than that of violent death in order to be worthy of natural rights. If they fear anything else more than violent death, they have no natural rights.

    Thomas Jefferson believed more along the lines of Hobbesian natural right, but couched it in the rhetoric of religion, attributing rights to "Nature and Nature's God." (just as an aside, why not the Bible's God?)

    Those who discuss "human rights" tend, as a general rule, to base them on compassion and fellow-feeling. They would have no natural rights unless they were cute enough to warrant our compassion.

    As you see, how you would have to treat aliens would depend a lot on the possible basis for natural rights. How they would actually be treated would depend a lot on chance.

  • A really far-thinking capitalist will have to at least consider asteroid mining at some point; exploration, then, would be prospecting and surveying. Earth's mineral resources are quite finite, and at some point scarcity would probably make it worth it. I'd be surprised if there actually weren't a whole host of ways to economically exploit space and its contents...
  • You probably eat Pork.

    Pigs are smarter than dogs, it's pretty much a proven fact.

    Luckily for that dog YOU seem to love so much, it doesn't taste as good as the pig.

    Cats often treat their owners (and their owner's property) with the disdain you mention because Cats, unlike dogs, learn through very basic problem solving skills typical of an independent nature, while dogs learn through repetitive conditioning typical of pack mentality.

    There is safty in numbers, which protect the dog's pack mentality.

    As an individual, it's a damn good thing cats really aren't very choice meat.

    I for one eat almost no meat at all, limiting myself to almost no red meat, a lot of fish and VERY LITTLE turkey or chicken.

    It's not a moral issue, really. Them dumb animals are just so bad for you.

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • It's not written anywhere.

    When they come, I just hope Humans don't taste very good to them.

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • Here is a more realistic and perhaps inevitable situation to consider than Vulcans landing on Earth.

    How about when human and animal hybrids are produced from genetic tampering. Should the resulting lifeforms have the same rights as humans?
  • Actually, a lot of work has been done in this area. Go back and have a look the abortion debates from Roe v. Wade on. We have largely decided (academically, not legally) that rights all pretty much all revolve around the notion of personhood. Humans don't have rights, persons do. of course, defining exactly what a person is is pretty much up for grabs, but normally we end up with notions like ability to communicate, self-awareness, ability to reason, etc. So if E.T. were to pop on down in Times Square and he exibited the traits mentioned above, then he, theoretically, would be owed the same rights and you and me.
  • Like aliens that could travel faster than the speed of light wouldn't have anyplace better to go than this pathetic little dirtball. And even if they didn't, you don't think studying 50 years of our primative electromagnetic transmissions (Quite quaint, really) they wouldn't get a clue that maybe they won't get a swell reception when they get here? Assuming the same thing doesn't happen to us that happened to the Native Americans when Columbus landed...

    If I were an alien, first thing I'd do is level New York. Personally. Once I was sure I'd put you meat monkeys in your place and assured you that there was NO fucking where in my ship that you could hook up an Apple laptop, I might be willing to grant you guys the rights of some of our lower slave classes (ahem!)

    What was I saying here? I think it had something to do with the stupidity of 50 years of TV Sci Fi writers. Or something like that.

  • ... is that ET would not be able to copyright his story.

    "At the very least, for a worldly entity to be guilty of infringing a copyright, that entity must have copied something created by another worldly entity."

    Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra

    114 F.3d 995 (9th Cir. 1997)
  • aliens..they would be treated extremely well..considering we would need technology from them...and being humans..we like to suck up.. AI..basucally slavery..cause we created it so we would think we were its god or something..
  • Suppose a being can memorize all of our world history, art and literature in one day, has the computing power of a PC in it's head, is 100 times stronger than humans, etc. Does this being deserve only one vote in a democracy or more?

    I don't know but turn it around. Suppose a being can barely remember which day of the week it is, can't hold down a job, sits around in its underwear all day drinking beer and watching Springer. Does this being deserve less than one vote in a democracy? The law says not (although slaves only counted for a fraction of a vote once upon a time)


  • "'Human Rights'. Why the very name is racist."
    -- Azetbur (Klingon Chancellor, ST6)
  • That's hysterical. Even funnier is the list of languages that Google are working to support [].
    • Elmer Fudd (4%)
    • Hacker (17%)
    • Kannada (2%)
    • Klingon (2%) -- WooHoo! Can't wait!
    • Pig Latin (73%)
    Borkborkbork is just the tip of the iceberg!
  • ...detroit starts selling cars that can levitate and fly over intersections? The traffic code isn't equipped to deal with that!

    Or, what if someone discovers a way to read minds and record exact thoughts? What is the legal system going to do!

    My advice: it's best when systems (bureaucracies esepcailly!) trail the phenomenon that they control, so the controls adapt to reality, and not the other way around.

  • I don't think that I will ever consider AI to be a life form. I've written plenty of it in my time at university. I've read up on it and coded it and played with it and everything... and no matter how well you simulate life... it's all quantifiable algorithms and equations and so forth. If there is an AI bill of rights. I think that I will have to move to mars. (BTW, if I develop and AI in the future, and it reads this, I hope it doesn't hold this against me... I doubt it will.)

  • Actually, my initial reaction to the virus in ID-4 was pretty much the same; however, on reflection, it actually seems pretty plausible, given the framework of the movie

    You have to consider the psychology of a telepathic species. Such a species would not be big on individualism, even if they didn't have a "hive mind". If everyone can read your mind, crime would be impossible; indeed, the species might not even be able to understand the IDEA of "crime". Such a society wouldn't consider computer security to be necessary -- they wouldn't even know where to start, it would be a totaly alien concept to them.

    Assuming their computers worked on similar concepts to our own (reasonable, because the universe only has one set of physical laws), it is conceivable that a master hacker could figure out a way to crash their computers in short order.

    It's a stretch, but it's actually the most plausible plot element in the movie. Yeah, it's a lame movie, but it's still fun to watch if you've got a buzz on.


    I can see Lucy Random Cheerleader asking this question, and how everybody would giggle nervously and then change the subject. But as for this being accepted by Cliff as an entire "Ask Slashdot?"? Someone hasn't slept in a while, that's for sure.

    As for the passport issue: I'll guess they'll just have to make an exception.

    Suggestions for future Ask Slashdots:

    • If it was somehow proven that God doesn't exist, what are we going to with all churches and stuff?
    • If a tree falls in a forest, and noone is there to hear it, how did it fall in the first place?
    • If a giant rock is heading towards the earth and we all die when we collide, who's going to be around to kick Bruce Willis ass for not saving us?
    The answer to all of these is of course: who gives a damn? There might be more important questions to address in such a situation.


    Now flame on if you want to, but I seriously think this was a really silly question.

  • Pooies, you are forgetting something, AI doesn't have the problem that humans do of not adapting to their situation.

    We could insert a simple line reading

    If Slavery = True
    Happiness = True

    If Slavery = False
    Happiness = False

    I'd like to see them fight for freedom then,heh, a bunch of depressed freedom fighters.
  • It's OK, we've got plenty of Apple Macs.
  • It is a silly question.

    Think about it. If an alien were able to come to Earth, the question would be what rights do we have?

    Remember your history, its the ones that arrive from afar that make the decisions. Europeans decided the rights of native Americans, not the other way around. Etc. Etc. Etc.

  • The President's speech from Independence Day sums it up well:

    I know there is much we can learn from each other if we can negotiate a truce.
    We can find a way to co-exist.
    Can there be peace between us?

    The AOL-Time Warner-Microsoft-Intel-CBS-ABC-NBC-Fox corporation:
  • The sort of spiteful "I disagree therefore I will moderate you down" attittude is NOT what moderation is for.

    Clearly you are one of the aliens the story was about. ;)
  • alien (or aliens) wishing to stay would be treated like a foreign dignitary.

    ...An AI would be treated like a machine for long before they ever get rights... This si going to be an extremely interesting set of legal ground greaking when it finally takes place.

    What would be really interesting is if we were visited by aliens who turned out to be mechanical beings.

    Do we deny the fundamental equality of the visitor? Do we immediately grant rights to all AIs (assuming they already exist on earth, but haven't yet gained rights)? Or, do we act slightly hypocritically and make an exception for the visitor?

    Probably the last. Far be it for the human race to act rationally. ;-)


  • Assuming the conpiracy theorists are wrong, and the aliens come down in peace and all that, an alien (or aliens) wishing to stay would be treated like a foreign dignitary. It obviously a special circumstance where rules would be set aside for the duration.

    Now, as far as AI would go, first AI will be created, but the rights of AI won't come for a long time. Historically human societies are loathe to grant new rights to groups not currently recognized. An AI would be treated like a machine for long before they ever get rights. What will have to happen is people who currently DO have rights (living people) will have to take up the cause on behalf os the AI. Possibly the first test of the potential rights of an IA would come if the owner of the machine the AI "lives" in wants to shut it down, or sell the AI, or somehow threaten it's status quo, and another person starts seeking injunctions and the court to recognize the AI as a being. This si going to be an extremely interesting set of legal ground greaking when it finally takes place. Kind of makes you wonder who the AI version of Rosa PArks will be...


  • It's an interesting legal question. We'd be inclined to think they'd be considered legal people with respect to rights.

    I'd think the state department would be getting in contact with them to arrange diplomatic relations and exchange of culture, software, etc. I don't believe the question of rights would even be an issue.

    However, that is not actual human history, or even US history. "We" required ammendments to grant equal rights to people of "other" races, and of "other" genders.

    In the present day, does anyone really believe this would be a problem?

    (Maybe it would. Maybe I overestimate the average person's intelligence.) Even if it were not a problem, maybe ammendments are necessary simply to codify it into law.

    Maybe people mistreat other people because they consider them to be less than people? (So how would this apply to aliens?)

    Maybe people hold slaves because they believe them less than people, or for economic reasons? How would this rationale apply to aliens?

    Ob.Troll: Maybe we've granted equal rights to the various other genders because we have lost sight of the inherent superiority of the male physique -- esp. young cute ones? Or Cmdr. Taco. (How would this rationale apply to aliens? :-)
  • Imagine all of the patent holders wanting to enforce their IP rights and collect licensing fees from the aliens for all of the ideas that humans have patented.

    And think of the people reviewing all of the newly introduced alien technology. Heck, they'd be stumbling over each other to be the first to the patent office with their filings on all that new technology.

    Would the RIAA and MPAA be able to get in on any of this?

    But seriously...

    What about all the existing contracts where party A gives "worldwide" rights to party B? i.e. band signing with RIAA? Or Microsoft acquiring a competitor's software?
  • I often think about how fundamental a concept it is to our society that you only have *one* partner in a relationship with the opposite sex. Even *looking* at another girl can land you in a lot of trouble, as if you've done some incredible, absolute *wrong*. But this is such an arbitrary thing: many other cultures (even many still around today - the King of Swaziland has 8 wives) it is very normal to have (e.g) multiple wives. And those women don't get petty and jealous, because it is simply normal for them, it doesn't bother them. Hard for us to imagine maybe. But it shows how arbitrary some of our most basic moral principles really are, they are not founded on anything absolute (unless of course you're a Christian). Many of what we consider to be "absolute" morals are incredibly arbitrary, and many are derived from religions such as Christianity - but when you analyze them from a non-Christian viewpoint, they appear arbitrary and ridiculous (e.g. no sex before marriage). This notion of "only one partner" is so ingrained into our consciousnesses from birth we find it very difficult to imagine that this isn't some absolute universal moral principle.

    If a woman's husband has an affair in our society, it causes such incredible amounts of pain to her that the relationship will probably never recover, and will most likely end in a divorce. Yet had the same woman been born into a a different culture, she could easily have ended up sharing her husband with many other women - and not experience a day's pain from it.

    Those hypothetical aliens had better become Christians fast, or they're going to have a hard time living here on Earth amongst Western cultures - most "modernized" countries legal systems are based to a fair degree on Christian morals.

  • What if there's something they consider a basic right, which we consider immoral? Or vice-versa?

    Yeah, those anal probes would be illegal under Georgia's sodomy laws. It's a big issue among gray rights advocates.

    Gray Pride! Keep reaching for that nebula!

    Maj. Kong
  • So in order to avoid the problems that this will cause, just remember that if someone approaches with open gunports, they are hostile.

    Not true necessarily. I forget which Sci-Fi show I saw it on, but that exact assumption nearly led to a war [the race in question flew with totally open weapons ports/systems, to them it was like coming out with your hands up, the other people could see precisely what you were packing {incidentally, I think the origin of the handshake follows similar reasoning}]

    Two things would be needed for a first contact: [assuming they or we already knew how to communicate with one another]
    1. No assumptions, simply take it as it comes.
    2. An ability to let conflicting values slide. So long as they don't plan to push whatever it is they do that we don't like on us, we should ignore it as much as we can. Their culture, their business.

  • Seems to me some days the only way we can justify the things we do against a living being that feels pain, in the case specifically of animal agriculture that puts animals into visible agony (still existant if not so prevalent as in the days of Sinclair Lewis's [whose btw was the quote-of-the-day when I was looking at this page (Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless. -- Sinclair Lewis )] "The Jungle"), is by saying that "we are human, you are not." This reasoning illuminates two important considerations:
    1. The moral positions of the majority of us hinge intimately on condoning "human bigotry", and would have to be re-evaluated if we come into contact with another race that we must accept as having the same rights. (As some of us have already accepted that it is the right of any animal that can feel pain not to be made to feel pain).
    2. The above reasoning can be the result only of an inveterate programmer, who alone are able to parse such sentences--the kind no self-respecting English teacher could so much as look at without becoming violently sick.
    This has been a public service.
  • There are exactly three predictable ways mankind will react to First Contact:

    * If the aliens are massively more advanced than we are and can crush us like the primitive little pre-warp fools we are, then mankind sucks it in and kisses ass. There will be dissident whacko groups trying desperately to foment war on both sides, but the majority of mankind will prefer to survive juuuust long enough to duplicate the alien super-weapons. Then mankind will try to turn the tables, because they'll be damned if a buncha slimy communist aliens are gonna tell THEM what ta do! The likely result in the end is mankind's destruction through its own consistent congenital stupidity. Either that or the aliens will bore of having such conniving and all around useless slaves, and destroy mankind anyway.

    * The aliens would be powerful as above, but in this scenario mankind decides to go xenophobic and attack them anyway, that or some terrorist's bomb kills the Xorfunian leader and either way the Earth gets turned into a nice glowing heap of slag. So long, humans.

    * The aliens are not too greatly advanced and/or don't have much in the way of military technology. This is very much the least likely possibility. In this case mankind will ruthlessly subjugate the aliens, including I predict attempts to torture secrets of alien technology from them for "National Security" reasons. The alien technology thus gleaned will then be turned on the rest of mankind. Final result: glowing heap of slag, see above.

    Makes me want to play that stirring soundtrack to ST: First Contact again! =) If any aliens are reading this, I'll simplfy: Humans bad. Humans stupid. Humans kill anything that's not human and much that is. Don't waste your time with humans.

    Of course, any alien race that can't tell what we're like just from the past 50 years of our TV broadcasts in space, deserves to get it. =P

  • ... it's all quantifiable algorithms and equations and so forth.

    So, just because we can understand the inner workings of an AI, it means it has no rights?

    What happens on the distant day when the final mysteries of the human brain are unlocked, and scientists can accurately predict anything anyone will do by mathematical algorithms based on the way the brain works? Will we all no longer have any rights once we become so explicable?

    Rather, I think Isaac Asimov had it right in his novel "The Bicentennial Man" (now a weak rip-off movie with Robin Williams! Read the real thing).

    In the novel, a U.S. supreme court justice finally granted full civil rights and citizenship to an advanced robot (basically, an AI) with the wording that "It is wrong to deny freedom to any mind advanced enough to grasp the concept and desire the state."

    'Nuff said. Beautiful, Dr. Asimov, beautiful. =)

    If aliens or AI ever arrive on earth, I hope we overlook the facts of whether they're living, mechanical, equipped with 30 tentacles or merely a hyperintelligent shade of the color blue - we should respect them as kindred minds, thus as equals.

  • The amount (if any) of rights that visitors from another planet/dimension will garner will be based solely on what they look like.

    For Example:

    If they are vaguely humanoid looking, they stand a chance of having some rights.

    If all of their internal organs are on the outside/their skin is translucent/they have tentacles, etc, they stand a pretty good chance of being locked up/burned/melted/studied/quarantined, etc.

    If they have fur, and/or are cuddly, rest assured the soccer moms and cheerleaders of the world will be lobbying for their rights.

    If there is any way that the commercial world can capitalize on them, they will have rights. For example, if they have enough appendages to make a kick ass action figure you can damn well assure that mattell will hire the best civil rights attorney's money can buy and those aliens will have all the rights they could ever want.

  • Both these books are REALLY good and cover this issue exactly. In both cases, they focus on the morality of interactions between species and misunderstandings due to fundamental biological differences.

    Would not wnat to spoil it though.

  • What dilemma? If you want to shoot down what he said that you DO NOT use moderation to do that.

    The post I was considering moderating was not the one to which I replied. But once you moderate in a thread you can't post, and vice-versa.

  • The feds would scoop up him (her? himher? it? THEM?) under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

    You've heard of this law: it's the one that allows foreigners to be held without telling them why. It was passed after an American, the soon-not-to-be T. McVeigh, blew up the Oklahoma Federal Building. In the U.S., when our own citizens go looney, we like to crack down on dangerous foreigners.

    The sad fact is that no alien, terrestial or extraterrestial, has much in the way of "rights," civil or otherwise, here.
  • The key word is PEOPLE. Cats & dogs are not people and are not citizens. Until another law is passed "space" aliens are just animals and, depending on the chosen landing spot, would be treated as an exotic pet - off to the zoo for you! Of course if the mother ship's size in measured by the mile and came into orbit on a jet of plasma as bright as the sun, ambassador status would be granted fairly quick.:)
  • They will have thier technology patented by RAMBUS and get sued off the planet.
  • by Phaid ( 938 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @12:28PM (#325041) Homepage
    Because it's not human, assuming we could easily overpower it, we'd kill it and dissect it, and take apart all of its technology. Then the other aliens on the mother ship would figure out that we're some kind of horrible parasite devouring all of the planet's atmosphere and natural resources, kill us all with some sort of genetically engineered microphage, and make first contact with the dolphins.
  • by bungatron ( 9546 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @11:51AM (#325042) Homepage
    we cannot appreciate sentient life as a species; "man shall have dominion over animals" as some bible tells us. We slaughter whales; dolphin death is a fall out from tuna farming.

    so basically, we'll kill them and eat them, maybe entering them into a forced breeding or cloning programme so we have plenty of tasty novelty alien flesh.

    the only animals we have ever empathised with, as a species, are apes and monkeys, because they look like us. if they don't look like us, we got no respect for them; they're food. we've essentially *got* alien culture on earth already and we treat it like shit.

    just a vegetarian's tuppence, anyway. :-)
  • by nyet ( 19118 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @03:39PM (#325043) Homepage
    What if they have a one-click patent! Or patented all the laws of physics, and demand 10 billion stellar credits as a licensing fee, or we forfiet our planet to make way for their interstellar bypass?
  • by cwhicks ( 62623 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @01:44PM (#325044)
    I came in to say how interesting I thought this question is. He's putting the horse a few (hundred/thousand) years ahead of the cart, but it is a very good philisophical/moral question, whether it has any relavance to reality.
    Obviously, it would not be a citizen of any country, and would not be a human. There are really no, non-human laws except something like cruelty to animals.
    The other interesting thing is that since it is assumed that the two cultures that meet, are going to be at different development stages, one far more advanced than the other, are they going to have equal rights?
    Suppose a being can memorize all of our world history, art and literature in one day, has the computing power of a PC in it's head, is 100 times stronger than humans, etc. Does this being deserve only one vote in a democracy or more?
    As a matter of business fact, humans would become obsolete. Who would hire a human over this other being?
    Let alone getting girls.
  • by Nihilism Uber Alles ( 95674 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @12:00PM (#325045)
    Perhaps we as humans are to precise in our notion of what forms of life any included in our circle of respect. In historical times, anybody who was not part of your particular village or tribe was not consider equal. Even today the remenants of segragation are around, from deciding that other races and ethnicity of people were not equal. Perhaps the next boundry is for a concept of rights that does not force the holder of those rights to be human. Organizations like the Great Apes Project( are pushing for similar moral and legal protections for large primates. I see such issues moving to the forefront in the coming century as more people come to discover philosophical that is is very difficult to logicaly construct an idea of equality in which small infants, children, or possibly even fetuses are covered as being "human" or "close enough to human to be given basic rights and protections", yet not extend those same ideas to other living forms of high ability. Unless one accepts the religous view that our own species is "in gods image" or is more unique and special in other ways that reduce animals to having no rights at all. If humans are so special, then aliens should not have rights. If there is some level of reasoning, intellegence, emotion or whatever we decide the guidelines for recieving rights should be, then we should have to test that judgement against the abilities and knowledge of other species.
  • by bartok ( 111886 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @12:01PM (#325046)
    I think that before asking ourselves if aliens have rights, we should be asking ourselves if humans that live in other countries have rights to. If so, why do we keep doing buisness with them? Shoulden't our government exercise more pressure on other governments so that human rights be better in other countries instead of turning a blind eye because it's very profitable for north american and european buisnesses to exploit cheap labor and an an autoritarian government is handy when workers try to form teamster organizations. Is it not a bit hypocritical to indirectly support an oppressive regime financially?

    Ho but I'm sorry, this is not on topic. I wouldn't want to spoil this very important conversation about alien rights. I'd better watch more television cause I think I'm starting to think for myself or something.

  • by Da Penguin ( 122065 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @11:58AM (#325047)
    Aaargh. Another minority. News at eleven: people with nothing to do are complaining about how you see very few aliens on television shows, and how there are no aliens on the various sports teams. Golf must be stopped, because it favours the majority of beings on this planet and their special bodies and upper arms. Why aren't there more giant sponge people with no visible brains involved in science? The oxygen based atmospehere is partial to only certain beings and discourages immigration from Zandorxis B. Thus the atmosphere must be equalized by adding poisonous gases to it.

    PS: Does anyone know how this article actually made it on Slashdot?

    Now go away or I shall taunt you with my supreme knowledge of pi

  • by c.r.o.c.o ( 123083 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @11:50AM (#325048)
    Well, if you've mentioned a Vulcan as your example, then there won't be any first contact, at least not on their part.

    I know that the Federation has that pesky law, called the "Prime Directive", and I believe that the Vulcans have the same (I'm not sure about it though). As you probably know, one of the clauses of the directive is that you cannot come into contact with a civilization unless they have warp technology. We don't have it. So no vulcan will visit us any time soon.

    As for other species, I'm sure that any concievable kind of aliens have been depicted in movies of all sorts. Movies which also explain pretty well what would happen in such scenarions. And if the predictions in the movies would come true, I'm a lot more concerned about OUR rights rather than the aliens (see Mars Attacks, Idependence Day, etc, etc).

    Hope this answers your question. :)

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @12:50PM (#325049) Homepage
    The question sort of assumes that the aliens are our peers, like in the Star Trek universe where most of the aliens are humanoid, and are at a level of technological development similar to ours. Under that assumption, I guess it makes sense to worry about whether they can own property, vote on juries, blah blah blah.

    But first off, they're not likely to be interested in juries and real estate. Look at our own planet. We can't even be sure whether dolphins, whales, and elephants are intelligent. Darn, I hate how the dolphins just refuse to use the #2 pencil properly in order to take an IQ test!

    Also, the universe is billions of years old, and the evolution of intelligence is likely to happen at vastly different points in time. Any aliens who land on earth are likely to be hundreds of millions of years more advanced than us, so it won't really matter to them what our laws say.

    The Assayer [] - free-information book reviews

  • by stud9920 ( 236753 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @02:28PM (#325050)
    An alien couple enters an human house at breakfast. They engage in a conversation.
    -And how do you reproduce on your planet ? asks the man.
    The aliens show them, and they get a little alien two minutes later
    -Now you show us, the aliens ask.
    The humans think fuck it, they're not even humans, let's do it. They do it, and the aliens say :
    -Funny, on our planet, that's how we make coffee

  • by terri rolle ( 413434 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @01:02PM (#325051)

    Its not a lame question. Its actually rather interesting. Who else would put such a fascinating question on the main page of their site? Its this kind of thinking that leads me to come to Slashdot in the first place. Its thinking outside the box. I know that this kind of subject matter makes some people uncomfortable, but one day humanity will have to consider issues like these, and maybe sooner than you think.

    I think that there wouldn't be much of a problem with the law if (or should I say when) an alien comes to earth. Its pretty safe to assume that any alien who comes here will be much more advanced than us (not just technologically, but intellectually, morally, and spiritually). Most of us would pretty much intuitively recognize that fact. It would then be obvious that we couldn't possibly ask this higher being to conform to our backwards laws and customs.

    In fact, I think we would have to be grateful that any aliens would want to have anything to do with us, after they witness the violence we've done to each other, and to our planet.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @02:46PM (#325052) Homepage Journal

    It's a virtual certainty that would happen. Even among humans alone (forget aliens!) there's a pretty big lack of consensus. Just 150 years ago (not evan an eyeblink compared to interstellar travel time), you could buy and sell other people in USA. 60 years ago, you could be put to death for being a Jew in Germany. In present day USA, you're required to pay a percentage of your income to the federal government (unthinkable 100 years ago).

    If humans themselves don't consistently hold to much in the way of core values, then there's no chance that Joe Alien will happen to have compatable values with you.

    So in order to avoid the problems that this will cause, just remember that if someone approaches with open gunports, they are hostile.

  • by p3d0 ( 42270 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @11:48AM (#325053)
    What if there's something they consider a basic right, which we consider immoral? Or vice-versa?
    Patrick Doyle
  • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @01:25PM (#325054) Homepage
    Post or moderate? Ah, my first experience with the dilemma.

    the only animals we have ever empathised with, as a species, are apes and monkeys

    Methinks you have forgotten about DOGS which most folks in non war-torn areas of the world resist eating, find valuable as companions, and generally adopt as members of the family. Of course I suspect dog ownership is relatively low in geek circles, as many of us reserve our capacity for close interpersonal relationships for blazingly fast hardware and right hands.

    Then there is a minority of humans (unfortunately not enough of a minority) who have a thoroughly masochistic attachment to CATS even though these miserable creatures treat them and everything else with disdain.

    Oh, and my own non-right-hand companion has a wicked preference for BIRDS, especially her PARROT which is much more sophisticated about the words it says than non-parrot-owning people might generally suspect. I am quite certain that there are people, possibly including myself, whom DH would kill before allowing so much as a feather to be ruffled on Polly's head.

    OTOH many of us regard whole vast segments of our own species whose skin pigmentation, religion, geographic location, language, accent, or choice in pets to be, er, dogmeat.

    I think that there will be people who form "fellow-feeling" for aliens or AI with little difficult and rally for their inclusiveness, just as there will be those who think the guy next door is trash because he drives a pickup truck instead of a Mercedes. Our ideas of who "belongs" are very diverse and influenced more by our upbringing and culture than by any uniform idea of who is and isn't "human."

  • by Bobo the Space Chimp ( 304349 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @01:23PM (#325055) Homepage
    Human #1: Hey, Mr. Alien. Jesus died for your sins. Just believe, and you won't go to Hell after you die!

    Human #2: Hey, Mr. Alien. If you meditate and are real peaceful-like, you will reach Nirvanah.

    Human #3: Hey, Mr. Alien. Can I come to your planet and talk with the ghosts and sprits and animal-spirits on your planet?

    Alien Support Robot Gortinator 6000: Warning! Native life guidance psychoses Galactic catalog numbers 787, 1316, and 78. Recommend immediate termination of entire planet.

    Alien: Make it so.

    Human #4: Is Xenu still alive?

    Alien: It's Xemu. And no, he isn't. Gort, with all due haste, please.

  • by SpamMan372 ( 413662 ) on Saturday March 31, 2001 @11:53AM (#325056)
    As far as the United States goes, we have set up right's for people that ARE U.S. Citizens, and those who aren't. Heck, we even refer to non-US citizens as aliens. So I dont see the difference if theyre from a different planet. We dont have text saying the rights of every different race or ethnic backround outlined. Although technically we should treat them as just non-americans, I have a strange feeling that we wouldnt, considering sometimes we cant even treat Americans like non-Americans sometimes. \

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?