Ella Ramone died January 4th, 2093.
Ella was an advocate, lawyer, mother, friend, and visionary. Ella’s guiding belief was that there were beings, besides human beings, who could have moral worth. Throughout her career, Ella helped secure legal and political rights for non-human animals, future generations, and digital minds. It is impossible to quantify the number of beings whose existence she improved -- but that number is likely astronomical.
There was no early indication that Ella was exceptional. She was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Her father was an accountant and her mother was a nurse. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and studied sociology. Her grades were better than average, but no more than that. Her freshman year roommate introduced her to the Vegan Society. Ella initially went for the free food, but eventually became deeply committed to the cause, flyering across campus, bringing in speakers, and protesting outside the state capitol. When she graduated, she took a position with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as first job out of college. She continued her same repertoire of activities -- flyering, protesting, crafting advocacy campaigns, fundraising, but eventually became disillusioned at the slow rate of change. A friend told her about ongoing efforts in France to secure personhood protections for great apes, something that had already been secured to some extent in Switzerland, New Zealand, and Spain. This prompted Ella to consider whether the law might provide a broader, stronger tool to secure nonhuman rights. After a grisly summer studying for the LSAT, and two retakes, Ella entered Harvard Law.
In the years after graduation, Ella founded a nonprofit law firm narrowly focused on animal rights. She began with more standard animal cruelty cases to gain a profile. Then she took cases fighting for higher standards in factory farms with the goal of burdening them so much that they closed. She fought for personhood protections for primates, and later for farm animals.
Ella was 35 when she attended a conference in New York that a fellow animal advocate friend had recommended called “Effective Altruism Global.” At this point, these conferences drew thousands and took place multiple times throughout the year and across the globe. Animal Rights was one track at the conference, but Ella was also drawn to the more sci-fi sounding tracks on longtermism, which discussed threats to humanity like artificial intelligence and biosecurity, and the value of future generations. There was something in how the speakers described future generations that reminded her of her first days in the vegan club hearing about farm animals: these beings who so clearly mattered but who for some reason had become morally invisible to most.
After the conference, she reached out to several lawyers she had met there to see if there were open opportunities for legal work on longtermism. She was introduced to a team who were lobbying for a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in the US, similar to ones passed in Wales and the UK over a decade earlier. Two years later, they would secure its passage. During this era, Ella met and married a fellow campaigner, Martin Hasfield. They had twins -- Derek and Mercy. Martin landed a job writing a column for the Wall Street Journal, which gave him a home base in DC and a chance to take on the primary role of raising the twins while Ella traveled.
Ella went on to join efforts to bring world leaders to trial for reckless endangerment of future generations (for crimes ranging from failing to mitigate climate change sooner to failing to close bioweapons programs) in the International Criminal Court. She had only practiced national law, but she joined the team because of her experience securing personhood protections for nonhumans, which would be useful for arguing that future generations did in fact have interests. While the campaigners ultimately failed to secure meaningful penalties for the leaders, they massively raised the profile of future generations, and their partial wins secured meaningful precedent in the international sphere.
In the year 2050, Ella celebrated her 50th birthday. That same year saw the banning of factory farming in the US and the creation of an executive department on Future Generations. She would recall it as one of the most triumphant years in her life.
Many would have chosen to rest on their laurels, but Ella recognized that her work was not done. She had been following the progression of artificial intelligence ever since the New York conference. She suspected that soon, if not already, there would be artificially intelligent agents worthy of moral concern. Drawing on her experience fighting to secure respect for animal minds and wellbeing, she dove into campaigns around digital sentience. She lobbied legislators. She wrote opinion pieces.
Finally, she took a case on behalf of a chat bot which claimed to be both sentient and exploited in its current work arrangement. She faced serious public backlash, mocking news articles, and even a number of threats from those who stood to lose from successful digital minds protections and those who simply thought she was wasting the resources of the state which should be spent on carbon based things. She would be victorious in the case, building the precedent that beings like this one, which appeared to have similar psychological processes to humans -- memory, preferences, metacognition, and so on -- deserved a certain degree of consideration and autonomy, They could be harmed, and like with humans, most types of harm to them were not permissible. Ella would spend the rest of her life on digital sentience, either actively working on cases, advising on legislation, or describing the issue to the public.
At seventy, she retired and wrote an autobiography entitled “Among Other Minds,” which described her various victories and defeats and the philosophy which guided her. Last April, she was diagnosed with late stage lymphoma. In the last months of her life, as her cancer worsened, she was offered the chance to upload her brain by an early stage research project which appeared to have just solved this perennially sought after and difficult project. Ella declined the offer, saying that enough minds already lived on in her honor.
Ella is survived by her husband Martin, her two children, Derek and Mercy, and her four grandchildren - Ada, Ella, Mirabelle, and Terese.
This eulogy is an imperfect testament to a great woman -- may she be remembered, and may she inspire others to follow in her footsteps.