A Human Fight For Robot’s Rights

By: Anthony Accardo
As Artificial Intelligence becomes more sophisticated and perhaps even autonomous, the question of “robot’s rights” has become inevitable and unavoidable. One Florida based company, the Nonhuman Rights Project, is working to guarantee rights to all autonomous beings, including the possibility of non-living entities.[1] Steven Wise, who leads the organization’s legal team, says that the same logic applies to any autonomous entity, living or not.[2] If one day we have sentient robots, he says, “we should have the same sort of moral and legal responsibilities toward them that we’re in the process of developing with respect to nonhuman animals.”[3]
Recently, Boston Dynamics released a video of their robotic dog, “Spot”, being kicked over to showcase the robots incredible balancing ability.[4] Animal rights group People for the Protection of Animals (PETA) released a statement over the video stating that Spot’s treatment in the video was inappropriate and was akin to animal cruelty.[5] Although the robot dog does not feel pain, many researchers believe it is important to treat robotic beings similarly to other humans. The question of how to treat sentient computers is not a new idea. Alan Turing, one of the first Computer Scientists, first thought of this question nearly seventy years ago[6]. The criteria that Turing came up with to determine how to treat non-living beings is still used today and is known as the “Turing Test”. The Turing Test is quite simple, if a human can hold a conversation with the entity, then it should be treated as a free-thinking individual.[7]
In Saudi Arabia, a robot named “Sophia” was recently given citizenship.[8] Sophia has an uncanny resemblance to a human, in both appearance and function.[9] Sophia’s AI technology allows her to recognize and remember faces, hold eye contact, and most importantly, hold conversation- and make jokes.[10] Sophia may be a citizen of Saudi Arabia, but what exactly does that mean? Saudi Arabia has not stated specifically what rights Sophia has, subsequently increasing skepticism among some critics who argue Sophia’s citizenship is nothing more than a publicity stunt.[11] International Law of the U.N., although unenforceable, does grant Sophia some rights, even if she is used solely for entertainment purposes.[12] According to Article 23 of a U.N. Resolution, “everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration”[13] and Article 17 entitles everyone to the right to own property.[14] Sophia may potentially have more rights as a robot citizen in Saudi Arabia than as a female citizen in Saudi Arabia. [15]
AI technology may one day have the ability to create itself or improve itself to the point where it is a free-thinking entity without the need for human intervention; easily satisfying the Turing Test. If a robot could perhaps separate itself from its human creator and become independent as though it was a child leaving its parent’s home, the ethical concerns surrounding ownership of robots as property may become a hot topic of debate around the world. One day, possibly, robots will be guaranteed the same rights and privileges as a human citizen.
  1. Dan Falk, The rise of smart machines puts spotlight on ‘robot rights’Are computers on their way to becoming people?, CBS News (Dec. 04, 2017, 9:20 AM), https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/rise-smart-machines-puts-spotlight-robot-rights-ncna825791.
  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Psychology Department , Univ. of Toronto, http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/reingold/courses/ai/turing.html, (last visited Sep. 5, 2018).

Molly Callahan, Should robots have rights?, Northeastern Univ. (Dec. 8, 2017), https://phys.org/news/2017-12-robots-rights.html.

  1. Hanson Robotics Ltd., http://www.hansonrobotics.com/robot/sophia/, (Last visited Sep. 5, 2018).)
  2. Zara Stone, Everything You Need To Know About Sophia, The World’s First Robot Citizen, Forbes (Nov. 7, 2017, 12:22pm), https://www.forbes.com/sites/zarastone/2017/11/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sophia-the-worlds-first-robot-citizen/#4823a1db46fa.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217 (III) a, U.N. Doc A/RES/217(III) (Dec. 10 1948). 7
  6. Id. d
  7. Michelle Mark, Women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive for the first time — here’s what they still can’t do, Business Insider (Sep. 27, 2017, 3:55 pm), https://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-women-rights-driving-ban-male-guardianship-2017-9.

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