Scene from Spielberg's movie AI

How we treat animals might show us how we will treat robots

Understanding the way other species see and interact with the world could change not only our relationship with non-human animals, but the way we interact with machines

Lidia Zuin
6 min readApr 4, 2023

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Last week, I published an essay in which I addressed how recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) could help us read brain scans and then “translate” them into what the patient was seeing during the exam. Ultimately, this same technology could help us understand how other species see the world — both in the literal sense and how they understand and interact with it. What if these same technologies could also help us think about how we interact with machines?

Nick Bostrom is one of the authors that make this correlation between animal ethics and AI ethics. Last year, he signed with Carl Shulman the document Propositions Concerning Digital Minds and Society, in which he suggests that, currently, we already have AI systems that have developed to a level of sensation, cognition, and morality that is similar to small animals. Though we are speaking of non-biological systems and, therefore, not alive as we understand it, this is still a good opportunity to make us go beyond the common sense of anthropocentrism.

This was the same step taken by the writer Donna Haraway when she moved her work from the topic of cyborgism, in the 1980s, to the research of non-human animals in the following decades. This transition became more explicit in her book When Species Meet, which is where we understand that Haraway has always been concerned with addressing the topic of post-humanism and, therefore, the displacement of an anthropocentric viewpoint to the observation of other species. Using domestic animals such as dogs was a very didactic shortcut, in this case.

After all, it is much easier to understand how we humanize or put pets on another existential level when compared to wild animals or cattle. The old vegan maxim that questions why we love some animals and eat others also stresses the distinction that we make on a cultural and moral level.

From the realization that a steak is literally a piece of a previously living being, as well as other concerns…

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Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Technical and science fiction writer.