This kind of "thought experiment" always reminds me of chapter seven in John Varley's Steel Beach, which narrates a utilitarian negotiation between humans and brontosaurs ("represented" by human ecologists sporting animal attributes) mediated by an omniscient computer.
Central Computer (CC): "It is as close to mental telepathy as we're likely to get. The union representatives are tuned into me, and I'm tuned into the dinosaurs. The negotiator poses a question: 'How do you fellows feel about 120 of your number being harvested/murdered this year?' I put the question in terms of predators. A picture of an approaching tyrannosaur. I get a fear response: 'Sorry, we'd rather not, thank you.' I relay it to the unionist, who tells Callie the figure is not acceptable. The unionist proposes another number, in tonight's case, sixty. Callie can't accept that. She'd go broke, there would be no one to feed the stock. I convey this idea to the dinosaurs with feelings of hunger, thirst, sickness. They don't like this either. Callie proposes 110 creatures taken. I show them a smaller tyrannosaur approaching, with some of the herd escaping. They don't respond quite so strongly with the fear and flight reflex, which I translate as 'Well, for the good of the herd, we might see our way clear to losing seventy so the rest can grow fat.' I put the proposal to Callie, who claims the Earthists are bleeding her white, and so on."
"Sounds totally useless to me," I said, with only half my mind on what the CC had been saying. [...]
"I don't see why you should say that. Except that I know your moral stand on the whole issue of animal husbandry, and you have a right to that."
"No, that whole issue aside, I could have told you how this all would come out, given only the opening bid. David proposed sixty, right?"
"After the opening statement about murdering any of these creatures at all, and his formal demand that all--"
"'--creatures should live a life free from the predation of man, the most voracious and merciless predator of all,' yeah, I've heard the speech, and David and Callie both know it's just a formality, like singing the planetary anthem. When they got down to cases, he said sixty. Man, he must really be angry about something, sixty is ridiculous. Anyway, when she heard sixty, Callie bid 120 because she knew she had to slaughter ninety this year to make a reasonable profit, and when David heard that he knew they'd eventually settle on ninety. So tell me this: why bother to consult the dinosaurs? Who cares what they think?"
The CC was silent, and I laughed.
"Tell the truth. You make up the images of meat-eaters and the feelings of starvation. I presume that when the fear of one balances out the fear of the other, when these poor dumb beasts are equally frightened by lousy alternatives--in your judgement, let's remember . . . well, then we have a contract, right? So where would you conjecture that point will be found?"
"Ninety carcasses," the CC said.
"I rest my case."
"You have a point. But I actually do transmit the feelings of the animals to the human representatives. They do feel the fear, and can judge as well as I when a balance is reached."
"Say what you will. Me, I'm convinced the jerk with the horns could have as easily stayed in bed, signed a contract for ninety kills, and saved a lot of effort."