CAN THE DECEASED CONSENT TO A DEADBOT?
Thus, the second question is: Would Jessica’s consent be enough to consider her deadbot’s creation ethical? What if it were degrading to her memory?
The limits of consent are, indeed, a controversial issue. Take as a paradigmatic example the “Rotenburg Cannibal”, who was sentenced to life imprisonment despite the fact that his victim had agreed to be eaten.
In this regard, it has been argued that it is unethical to consent to things that can be detrimental to ourselves, be it physically (such as selling one’s own vital organs) or abstractly (like alienating one’s own rights).
In what specific terms something might be detrimental to the dead is a particularly complex issue that I will not analyse in full. It is worth noting, however, that even if the dead cannot be harmed or offended in the same way as the living, this does not mean that they are invulnerable to bad actions, nor that these are ethical.
The dead can suffer damages to their honour, reputation or dignity (for example, posthumous smear campaigns), and disrespect toward the dead also harms those close to them. Moreover, behaving badly toward the dead leads us to a society that is more unjust and less respectful of people’s dignity overall.
Finally, given the malleability and unpredictability of machine learning systems, there is a risk that the consent provided by the person mimicked (while alive) does not mean much more than a blank check on its potential paths.
Taking all of this into account, it seems reasonable to conclude if the deadbot’s development or use fails to correspond to what the imitated person has agreed to, their consent should be considered invalid. Moreover, if it clearly and intentionally harms their dignity, even their consent should not be enough to consider it ethical.