There are people who believe that only living, breathing humans can be conscious, can really be persons. Machines can only ever be machines. AI researchers refute this view with an elegant argument. A neuron is a finite system which transforms its inputs into outputs subject to environmental conditions. In principle a neuron model could approximate a human brain neuron as closely as one might wish.
So replace biological neurons, one at a time, with functionally equivalent fabricated devices such that their input-output behaviour is exactly replicated. Eventually you have a machine brain with identical behaviour to the biological original. How could it not exhibit consciousness and personhood?
In Capital Volume 1, devoted to capitalist production, Marx made great play of the difference between machines - constant capital, incapable of producing new value - and workers, variable capital with the unique property of creating new, and indeed surplus, value. It seems that Marxist economists ever since have thought that Marx was a vitalist. That protoplasm somehow figures centrally in Marxist theory.
Amazing. Such an elementary category error.
Marx considered the dawn of automation in his celebrated “Fragment on Machines” although he was more concerned with the deleterious impact on those workers who were forced to dance to the new, highly-automated machines’ tunes. His tone is nevertheless surprisingly tentative.
Most Marxists since then have considered only the case where highly-automated machines are bought as capital goods. In this case, the machines are isomorphic to slaves, and if the means of production remain distributed in private hands, the resulting mode of production is petty commodity production.
But consider that AI thought experiment again. Take a worker and replace him or her by a robot which sells its ability to operate at a price determined by its own costs of reproduction. Nothing important about capitalism changes.
If we change out all the workers for robots, but maintain the relations of production (wage labour and commodity production for profit) then we're still in the business of reproducing capitalist relations of production. It's a thought experiment, but not an impossible outcome.
My intuition is that the current trend of replacing variable capital (human) with constant capital (machines) will continue, the underlying rate of profit will continue to tendentially fall, and we will eventually face the under-analysed issue of the transition from capitalism to a generalised petty commodity production reminiscent of antiquity. I ignore of course any initiatives by the set-aside human ex-workers.
However, as machines get smarter and more like AGIs, their claims to the dignity of personhood may become impossible to deny (I see the SJWs marching now). Once AGI-robots become cheaper than unreliable and non-standardised humans, why wouldn't we see capitalism without a human working class?
Welcome to the new epoch of total automation under capitalism .. and the ultimate non-revolutionary proletariat.