The Rights of Robots

The Case

Todays’ world sees attempts to build ‘most human-like robots’ that will possess capabilities such as love, compassion and genius. Sophia the Robot, an intelligent humanoid robot of Hanson Robotics was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia in 2017, making it the first country in the world to grant a robot a status reserved for humans. Sophia’s citizenship status along with the rapid development of advanced and human-like AI machines brought forth, even more pressing, the question of whether robots should be given human rights. But can self-learning robots be granted ‘personhood’? Does this mean that robots could hold rights and obligations, be insured individually and even be held liable for damage? Is the concept and the idea of citizenship is undermined (Hart, 2018)? It has been argued that since we have come up to a point where AI and robotics act and look like humans it might be necessary to grant them extensive rights at least in order to avoid ‘violating the rights of humans due to misidentification’ (Fischel, 2018).

Ethical Issues

In the EU, no reference has been made to rights being directly granted to intelligent machines. The closest the EU has come to this is with the Resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Civil Law Rules on Robotics in 2017, calling for ‘all possible legal solutions’ to be explored, including a specific legal status for the most sophisticated autonomous robots as ‘electronic persons’.

Electronic personality is not about giving human rights to robots but to ensure that a robot is a machine with a human supporting it. Thus legal personhood would not make robots virtual people with human rights; it would merely put them on an equal footing with corporations, which already have status as ‘legal persons’ and are treated as such by the courts around the world. Issues of accountability, liability or agency would therefore need to be transposed and renewed attention paid to legal and ethical concepts including human rights for intelligent machines.

Mitigation Strategies

  • General rights are not the exclusive preserve of humans: several rights are already granted to corporations and animals. AI already benefits from some limited rights related to commercial and scientific exploitation: the right to trade and to process data, access to data. The determining factors are consciousness, autonomy and rationality as applied to intelligent machine and human rights.
  • A special list of rights could be given to robots, in an attempt to avoid inappropriate human-robot interaction and recognise robots’ role in modern society (‘roboethics’ or ‘moral robotics’).
  • Legal standards may need to be revised to protect technological developments but also to protect the society as a whole.
  • Robots rights could include the right to exist, right to integrity, right to function and perform one’s mission, right to extension
    and self-development, right to remedies.

Lessons Learned

No matter how the subject is approached, robots always appear to be subject to some sort of human control or ownership. This assumption may need to be revised with due caution and paying heed to the future of humans in society in the future. Moreover, any developing AI and robot right would need to be placed within the existing and any future legal framework, currently having at its heart the protection of individuals through human rights, while robots’ rights in their majority must be granted qualified and not absolute status. Therefore, humans should always come first until time and technology allow the law to provide an equal or equivalent status to robots/things.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.