NYU Creates Center For Mind, Ethics, And Policy

CMEP aims to further our understanding of the sentience and moral status of animals and AI systems

New York University has established the Center for Mind, Ethics, and Policy, which aims to further our understanding of the sentience and moral status of nonhumans, notably animals and AI systems.

“The world contains quintillions of animals, and in the future, it could contain an even larger number of AI systems,” says Jeff Sebo, CMEP’s founding director and a professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies. “Human activity is increasingly shaping the lives of these beings, and these trends raise important and difficult questions, such as: Which of these beings are sentient, and what kinds of moral, legal, and political status should they have?

“The center will address these issues through research, outreach, and field-building activities. It will also reach beyond the academy through engagement with companies, governments, and the general public.”

CMEP stems from NYU’s Mind, Ethics, and Policy Program (MEP), which was established in 2022. Its growth into a center, which will formally launch in fall 2024, is fueled by a $6-million endowment, including $5 million from the Navigation Fund and $1million from Polaris Ventures.

Over the past year, MEP researchers have published work about moral consideration for AI systems, the importance of welfare comparisons, and the ethics of overlapping minds, among other topics, while Sebo has authored op-eds on AI sentience, nonhuman rights, and more. His next book, The Moral Circle (W. W. Norton), which examines the moral status of insects, AI systems, and other nonhumans, is scheduled for publication in January 2025.

Earlier this year, Sebo and colleagues from around the world-including biologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers-released the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness, as reported in the journal Nature and other outlets. This Declaration holds that all vertebrates and many invertebrates have a “realistic” chance of being conscious and that humans should consider welfare risks for these animals.

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