sanscardinality wrote: I was thinking more of our attitude towards "lesser" beings.
History shows humans will use any excuse, no matter how distorted, to justify our treatment of "lesser" beings. If we have any theory of consciousness, we'll use it, but if we don't have a theory of consciousness, we'll still use that lack to justify our actions.
I just finished rewatching Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers." Taken on its surface merits, it's not a great movie, but on the other hand Verhoeven's whole point is to not-too-subtly deconstruct Heinlein's ideology. Included are arguments--the vulgar kind--over whether or not "bugs" can be intelligent, including a TV pundit declaring, "I find the suggestion of bug intelligence to be offensive!" Although the movie is from the 1990's, it's amazing how it comments on our current administration and their justification for war in Iraq--and their dismissal of opposition viewpoints.
For a literary deconstruction, read Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War," which also dismantle's Heinlein's novel.
PS -- Although, thinking about it, and I think this is what SC was getting to (I can be slow sometimes), there is the interesting question: what will happen if and when we routinely have "fake" consciousnesses all around us? I mean, when Windows and our computer games (as SC suggested) and so on do a more thorough case of faking consciousness. By fake I mean the kind of tricks seen in some of the oldest programs and the contest SC alluded to--algorithms that pick up on verbal clues and respond to them, but not having any internal life. Although computer scientists would not imaging these are real conscious programs, what will it do in the popular imagination? Will it lead to a kind of popular pantheism, where people tend to believe that everything is conscious? It may not even be malicious, as SC worries, but it could distort the general view of the universe.
At the very least--a good germ of an idea for an SF story. Thanks, SC!