ALife Ethics: Should Artificial Systems Have Rights?

Online Workshop, ALife 2022 Conference, Trento, Italy, 18 – 22 July


Conference website:
Session link:
18 – 22 July
Format: Interactive Workshop
Duration: Half day (2 x 1.5 hour time slots)
Participation: Open to all conference participants (free registration available to students submitting an essay to the student contest).


All times are CET

  • 10:00
  • Introduction and context by organizers
  • 10:20

  • First panel: Henry Shevlin, David Gunkel, John Basl, Eric Schwitzgebel
    (Moderator: Olaf Witkowski)
  • 11:20
  • Break
  • 11:30
  • Short breakout session in small groups
  • 11:55
  • Short feedback from breakout
  • 12:00
  • Final panel: Susan Schneider, Erik Persson, Olaf Witkowski
    (Moderator: Eric Schwitzgebel)
  • 12:55
  • Final words


This workshop aims to connect Artificial Life research with the ethics of artificial systems. The field of Artificial Life studies the nature of the living state, by modeling and synthesizing living systems. Such systems, under certain conditions, may come to deserve moral consideration similar to that of non-human vertebrates or even human beings.

The fact that these systems are non-human and evolve in a potentially radically different substrate should not be seen as an insurmountable obstacle to their potentially having rights equivalent to non-human vertebrates or even human beings, if they are sufficiently sophisticated in other respects.  Nor should the fact that they owe their existence to us be seen as reducing their status as targets of moral concern. On the contrary, creators of artificial life may have special obligations to their creations, resembling those of an owner to their pet or a parent to their child.

For a field that aims to create artificial lifeforms with increasing levels of sophistication, it is crucial to consider the possible implications of our activities under an ethical perspective, and assess the moral obligations for which we should be prepared. If artificial life is larger than life, then the ethics of artificial beings should be larger than human ethics.

The purpose of this workshop is to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scientists, philosophers, and specialists in the relevant domains connected but not limited to ethics, artificial intelligence, and robotics, for a productive round-table discussion. We are planning a half-day workshop, organized around an open discussion. We plan to follow an Unconference/Choose Your Own Adventure format. We also plan to invite key actors in the AI and technology industry, to enable new dialogues and possible collaborations.

For context, prior to the workshop, the organizers put together this preprint, as a starting point for the workshop discussion. The paper was reviewed and accepted for a long presentation at ALIFE 2022, and will be published in the proceedings of the conference.


Olaf Witkowski (Cross Labs, University of Tokyo) is the director of research and founding member at Cross Labs, an AI research institute in Kyoto, leading fundamental research in AI and Artificial Life. He is also an executive officer at Cross Compass Ltd., a lecturer in information sciences at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Tokyo, a research scientist at the Earth-Life Science Institute of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and a regular visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has co-founded various ventures in science and technology on three continents, including YHouseInc. — a nonprofit transdisciplinary research institute in New York, focused on awareness, artificial intelligence and complex systems—and the Center for the Study of Apparent Selves—a new institute in Kathmandu studying Buddhist philosophy and AI ethics. He received his PhD in neuroevolution learning and collective intelligence under Takashi Ikegami, from the Computer Science Department of the University of Tokyo. He is currently the vice president of the International Society for Artificial Life, and co-founded ALife Japan in 2021.

Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California, Riverside) is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside and cooperating member of UCR’s program in speculative fiction and cultures of science. He has published three books with MIT Press on philosophy of mind, cognitive science, moral psychology, and philosophy of technology, and has another forthcoming in 2023 with Princeton University Press. His work has appeared in leading venues in philosophy (e.g., Philosophical Review, Mind), psychology (e.g., Cognition, Child Development), science fiction (e.g., Nature, F&SF), and popular media (e.g., The Atlantic, Salon). He received his PhD from U.C. Berkeley in 1997 under the direction of Elisabeth Lloyd, Alison Gopnik, and John Searle.


Henry Shevlin, Ph.D is a Senior Research Associate with the Kinds of Intelligence Program, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. Course Lead of the AI Ethics & Society MSt at the University of Cambridge. Philosophy Ph.D (2016) at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York.

Henry Shevlin, Ph.D

David J. Gunkel, Ph.D is an award-winning educator, scholar and author, specializing in ethics of emerging technology. Formally educated in philosophy and media studies, his teaching and research synthesize the hype of high-technology with the rigor and insight of contemporary critical analysis.

David J. Gunkel, Ph.D

John Basl, Ph.D is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy & Religion at Northeastern University and a faculty associate at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

John Besl, Ph.D

Susan Schneider, Ph.D writes about the nature of the self and mind, especially from the vantage point of issues in philosophy, AI, cognitive science and astrobiology.  In her recent book, Artificial You: AI and the Future of the Mind, she discusses the philosophical implications of AI, and, in particular, the enterprise of "mind design."

Susan Schneider Ph.D

Erik Persson, Ph.D is a Researcher in Practical Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy. Erik research and teaching are primarily focused on ethical issues concerning biodiversity, climate change, AI and space exploration.

Erik Persson, Ph.D

Eric Schwitzgebel, Ph.D University of California, Riverside) is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside and cooperating member of UCR’s program in speculative fiction and cultures of science.

Eric Schwitzgebel, Ph.D

Olaf Witkowski, Ph.D is a Lecturer at the University of Tokyo, and Director of Research and founding member at Cross Labs, an AI research institute in Kyoto, leading fundamental research in AI and Artificial Life.

Olaf Witkowski, Ph.D


Ethics of artificial life, Artificial systems rights, Philosophy of technology, Artificial phenomenology, Consciousness science, Animal ethics, AI safety, Machine ethics, Moral status of AI, Industrial ethics


The ALife 2022 Conference on Artificial Life will be held in Trento, Italy, 18 – 22 July 2022. This year's conference theme, La DOLCE vita, will explore how to improve the quality of real life for all using techniques and discoveries from the ALife field.

For details, please visit the official conference website. For questions about the workshop, please contact