With robot rights, come robot responsibilities

Person or Property? – That is the Question…

“From a legal perspective, this is a complicated area, as the algorithms of an AI act as a “black box” — even the creator of the artificial intelligence is not always sure why the algorithm made a certain decision,” ~ Marten Kaevats, Adviser of the Strategy Unit of the Government Office of Estonia.

There is a lot of noise right now around robot rights — that is giving natural personhood rights to artificially intelligent robots and algorithms.

Sophia the robot was given actual citizenship by Saudi Arabia.

Shibuya Mirai, a civil-servant chat-bot with the “personality” of a small boy for the Shibuya neighbourhood of Tokyo, Japan was given “official residency” by the city (you can see “his” identity card below).

Shibuya Mirai - robot rights robot residency

Erica the fembot was given a job.

Some future thinking liberals have even proposed a bill of rights for artificial people. In fact, there is even an  American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, the ASPCR (“Robots are people too! Or at least they will be someday…) Of course there is. Of course, they are.

Estonia has gone a step further, promising to grant full human rights to any entity that can pass the so-called Kratt Law test, which is named after a mythological creature made out of household objects that gains sentience after its “creation”.

These are all examples of non-human entities enjoying some degree of what were previously human rights. Of course, these examples are also still more PR stunts than examples of an actual erosion of homo sapiens place at the top of the terrestrial food chain. That said, they are still noticeable markers along the way to a “universal bill of human-and-non-human rights”. They also open up a range of far-reaching questions, including:

What is consciousness? (Hint, no one really knows. No, really. We still don’t know this.)

At what point does should an intelligent non-human entity be considered a “person”? – And how can we tell this if we don’t even know what consciousness is?

Is it possible to force an artificially intelligent entity to do something against its “will”? And if so, is it ethical to do that?

Is it possible to sexually abuse a humanoid sexbot? – Is it OK to force a fembot to sleep with you? Where do we draw the line?

And many more questions along the same lines.

However, all these questions, as interesting and complex as they may be, miss the most pressing point when it comes to robot rights — and that is the fact that with rights come responsibilities.

And when we give artificial intelligence some of our rights, we also, handily, hand them some of our unwanted responsibilities.

As a case in point, the European Union is exploring the possibility of granting AI “personhood,” in essence, the proposed legal status that will elevate artificially intelligent entities from “products” to “people” will give the companies that make, sell and use artificial intelligence the right to pass the responsibility for what the machines and algorithms they own, operate and profit from onto the machines themselves.

This neat legal loophole which will come as a welcome relief for people like Elon Musk, who’s autonomous Teslars have already killed three flesh and blood humans — as it will mean the victim’s family will henceforth be suing the naughty car, rather than Tesla HQ (or even, heavens forbid, Elon himself) for damages…

In short, giving artificial intelligence and robots rights is in many ways a cop-out for companies who do not want to take responsibility for their technology hurting a “real” human or breaking a real law.

Sneaky, right?

This sort of obfuscation will also come in handy for governments and dictators who want to wash their hands of atrocities performed at the “hands” of their war drones.

I’m sure the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots will have something to say about that.

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