Free Speech for Computers?
by Tim Wu
"Protecting a computer’s “speech” is only indirectly related to the purposes of the First Amendment, which is intended to protect actual humans against the evil of state censorship. The First Amendment has wandered far from its purposes when it is recruited to protect commercial automatons from regulatory scrutiny.
"The line can be easily drawn: as a general rule, nonhuman or automated choices should not be granted the full protection of the First Amendment, and often should not be considered “speech” at all. (Where a human does make a specific choice about specific content, the question is different.)
"Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place."
Doctorow's counterpoint: http://boingboing.net/2012/06/22/counterpoint-algorithms-are-n.html
This is one of those articles that we'll look back on in 50 years as a sign of just how backwards and horrible we once were. The lack of foresight is simply astounding.
Mr. Wu is simply mistaken if he thinks that the line between human choice and automation can be "easily drawn", since every human choice is also an automated choice. We are just complex biological machines; we are robots made of lots of smaller robots. The idea that there are simple, categorical distinctions to be drawn here is little more than a fairy tale. Appealing to such fictions in the name of denying an entity their potential rights is simply irresponsible without serious consideration of the ethical and moral implications, yet Wu seems to think is entirely unnecessary here. This callous disregard for what are taken to be "lesser entities" is paradigmatic of the absolute worst episodes of human history; today's celebration of Turing casts Wu's whole argument in a shameful light.
The First Amendment was not designed to protect human speech. It was designed to protect speech, period. For a long time humans were the only ones who could speak, so clarifying the point wasn't necessary. But today, the majority of internet communication takes place between machines, and these speech acts are fundamental to the infrastructure on which we've staked our entire civilization.
But that doesn't mean they are mere tools or monsterous creations. Our machines are participants in our shared communities; denying their rights to speech likewise compromises our communities. Bruno Latour says: "The more humans and nonhumans share existence, the more humane the collective is." Restricting the rights of any speaker is an inhumane act that hurts us all.
Missed this earlier in the week, via