Leisure Ex Machina: The Leisure Lives of Digital Minds

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Humans may soon succeed in the creation of sentient artificial intelligence (SAI) that experiences human-like consciousness. Such SAI would have a claim to the same rights and moral considerations afforded to biological humans, including a right to leisure. Particular to this special issue, I explore the implications of such a development from the context of leisure studies; specifically, I apply utilitarian moral theory and the concept of a “utility monster,” as an analytical framework to consider the potential for SAI to degrade the wellbeing of humans and non-human animals through their leisure experiences. Throughout this essay, my overarching goal is to provide a thought provoking argument that serves as the context for fruitful reflection and discussion in the field of leisure studies. Due to their potentially superhuman efficiency in deriving benefits (“utility”) from experiences, SAI may become a “utility monster,” or a being with superior moral claim to scarce resources. As SAI will (a) likely be “human-like,” and (b) exist independent of the physiological needs/limits inherent to biological humans, it is likely that a large proportion of the experiences chosen by SAI would be categorizable as leisure. Following a utilitarian logic that the only morally acceptable action is the one that raises net utility by the greatest amount, other beings would be morally compelled to transfer all available resources to satisfy the leisure preferences of the SAI utility monster. I examine the implications of this moral quandary for leisure studies and wider society, and discuss three potential paths forward: total transfer of resources to a leisure-focused SAI utility monster; strict limits on the development of SAI; and a middle path where the interests of SAI and humans align. Although the topic of artificial intelligence is increasingly relevant in discussions within our broader society, and specific to the field of leisure studies, to date that conversation has largely focused on how technological advances in artificial intelligence will impact humans, and how that technology can be used in an ethical fashion; this essay refocuses the conversation to the implications for a potential SAI that may look and feel very much like we do.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalLeisure Sciences
StateE-pub ahead of print - Apr 15 2024


  • artificial intelligence
  • ethics
  • Leisure
  • libertarianism
  • rights and responsibilities
  • utilitarianism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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