Peter Singer Compares Abortion to Turning Off a Computer

By Wesley J. Smith

This is the kind of thinking that results from rejecting the intrinsic moral value of human life. Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer — who is most famous for secularly blessing infanticide — just compared abortion to turning off a computer.

He first claims that should an AI [Artificial Intelligence] ever become “sentient,” turning it off would be akin to killing a being with the highest moral value (which for him, as described below, need not be human). From the Yahoo News story:

We asked internationally renowned moral philosopher Professor Peter Singer whether AI should have human rights if it becomes conscious of its own existence.

While Professor Singer doesn’t believe the ChatGPT operating system is sentient or self-aware, if this was to change he argues it should be given some moral status. “It would have the status of other self-aware sentient beings,” he said.

He compares deactivating self-aware AI to ending the life of a human. “All things being equal, we should not switch it off if it has become self-aware,” he said.

Sorry. AIs may become very powerful and have great monetary value, but they would never have intrinsic moral worth. Being a living organism is the first predicate to moral value. You can’t kill or harm that which is inanimate. You can only destroy or damage it.

Moreover, an AI would never be truly conscious. It would always be limited by its programming, no matter how sophisticated or self-coded. In other words, it could not truly think, but only mimic thought and intellectualism. And, it would be utterly mechanistic, and hence, never able achieve transcendence or truly create.

To understand Singer’s perspective: He doesn’t believe that human life has moral value simply because he or she is human. Rather, value has to be earned, primarily be being self-aware or able to value life. He argues that self-aware entities are “persons” — including some animals.

He also believes that non-self-aware beings–including human infants, unborn babies, and people who have serious dementia, persistent unconsciousness or minimal  consciousness–are not persons. Non-persons, in his view, have lower moral value than persons, and indeed, can be killed or used instrumentally for the benefit of persons, such as being experimented upon. Thus, Singer has argued that cognitively disabled humans should have been used to research hepatitis and HIV vaccines rather than chimpanzees.

No wonder Singer compares turning off a non-sentient AI machine to abortion:

But, according to Peter Singer, that doesn’t mean we can’t stop AI in its tracks before it becomes self-aware. “I think that’s more like terminating a pregnancy . . . so I would say it’s okay to turn off an AI that predictably will become self-aware if you leave it running, but isn’t as yet.”

So, killing an unborn baby — a nascent human being with a beating heart — is akin to turning off a sophisticated computer. Talk about an ethically stunted outlook.

That Singer wins prestigious international philosophy awards tells us all we need to know about contemporary intellectualism’s profound moral collapse.

Editor’s note. Wesley’s great columns appear at National Review Online and is reposted with permission.