Digital suffering : why it’s a problem and how to prevent it

Bradford SAAD*, Adam BRADLEY

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


As ever more advanced digital systems are created, it becomes increasingly likely that some of these systems will be digital minds, i.e. digital subjects of experience. With digital minds comes the risk of digital suffering. The problem of digital suffering is that of mitigating this risk. We argue that the problem of digital suffering is a high stakes moral problem and that formidable epistemic obstacles stand in the way of solving it. We then propose a strategy for solving it: Access Monitor Prevent (AMP). AMP uses a ‘dancing qualia’ argument to link the functional states of certain digital systems to their experiences—this yields epistemic access to digital minds. With that access, we can prevent digital suffering by only creating advanced digital systems that we have such access to, monitoring their functional profiles, and preventing them from entering states with functional markers of suffering. After introducing and motivating AMP, we confront limitations it faces and identify some options for overcoming them. We argue that AMP fits especially well with—and so provides a moral reason to prioritize—one approach to creating such systems: whole brain emulation. We also contend that taking other paths to digital minds would be morally risky.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

For helpful feedback, we are grateful to Ali Ladak, Andrew Y. Lee, Geoffrey Lee, Nuño Sempere, participants in the Future of Humanity Institute’s digital minds reading group, and anonymous reviewers.

This work was supported by the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, the John Templeton Foundation [grant no 61516], the Sentience Institute, and Utrecht University. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of funders.


  • Artificial intelligence
  • machine ethics
  • consciousness
  • dancing qualia argument
  • functionalism
  • alignment problem

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