Debugging the Issue of Robot Rights

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly advanced, and becoming a larger and larger part of our day to day lives, the question of whether the machines that we make deserve rights is one that will inevitably have to be answered.

Our good friend Siri (or whatever you android people have instead…) is a prime example of how technology is becoming increasingly intelligent as it gains access to more and more information about our daily lives. Artificial intelligence is around us all day every day, adding events from your email inbox to your calendar, telling you where you parked your car, and monitoring your internet history so that you see relevant adverts when browsing the web.

Electronic personal assistants like Siri and Cortana are already able to hold conversations with humans, using information that is specific and unique to each of us. When do we consider our bots to be people? At what point can we say they have feelings?

At that point, isn’t unplugging or switching off your devices technically murder?

At the moment, there aren’t any robots truly smart enough to need this question to be answered (thank god), but it’s likely that in the near future, robots will be interacting with us like other human beings do, and we’re seriously unprepared for when that day comes.

Personally, I don’t think being able to interact with us in a human fashion is enough on its own to have to consider giving a machine rights. Human nature is based around the fact that we are conscious beings (as are animals) – we dont see potatoes being given rights do we? Consciousness of our surroundings, our daily events and  our mental state allow us to feel emotions, such as happiness, sadness, grief and pride. To need rights, a robot needs to be able to feel pain. If a robot doesn’t feel emotional pain, we dont really have to give it any rights because the whole point of them is to protect ourselves from pain, both emotional and physical, which allows us to lead a happy life. It’s a scary thought that one day, we might make a piece of technology so intelligent that it can think for itself, lead a life, and feel emotions in a way that we once thought was unique to our species.

If a robot is technically another person, we shouldn’t even be allowed to own it, because it should be entitled to its own freedom, as well as all of the other human rights.

And on the subject of freedom, would an appliance that can’t move, mind being locked in a confined space?

Robots were initially introduced as a way of making our lives easier by doing the tasks that we don’t want to do. By doing tedious tasks efficiently for months on end, robots are saving money for companies (and taking away our jobs). But introducing robot rights is essentially going to just undo everything that we have done (to be honest – it wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve regressed *cough* trump *cough*). We would have to give robots time to rest, we would have to give them choice as to what they do, it would even eventually get to the point where we will potentially have to pay them to prevent them from refusing to work, claiming that they are ‘overworked and underpaid’.

You might be sitting here reading this thinking that this is all stupid, and to be honest with you, I would completely agree. Robots aren’t unique like us and they dont experience the world in the way that we do. But the frightening fact is that in the midst of the scientific revolution, the same was said about the animals that we share our homes with today, animals were seen to have the same levels of consciousness and feeling as your stuffed teddy bear, and many of humanities greatest crimes were based on the ideology that the victims were as humans as animals (i.e. not human at all).

So, I guess in the end, rather than asking why robots deserve rights, we should ask ourselves what makes us human, and therefore why we deserve rights over our electronic, artificial counterparts.

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10 thoughts on “Debugging the Issue of Robot Rights

  1. Interesting perspective, SSOM. This reminds me of ‘The Three Laws of Robotics’ by Asimov. And I guess “..what makes us human..why we deserve..” is quite a point. That’s what worries me already!

    I mean, we have now “No animal had been harmed during the making of this film..” stuff, right? Yet we also have just about all kinds of, say, ‘fight shows’ where people fighting/hurting each other (in a ring, cage etc)—the bloodier the better since everybody gets merrier. I imagine we will still have those shows when our movies’ ending credit change to “No robot had been harmed during the making..” 🙂 Cheers!

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    • Hey there, thanks for commenting! I think its interesting how we used to take pleasure in fighting animals to the death, but that we now frown upon this in society, and at the moment we see programmes where robots are pitted against each other till they are destroyed…. will we soon have to stop doing this too? And I think it is then when we will have to truly consider whether ‘fight shows’ are morally acceptable. Having said that though, humans have the full ability to decide, and people who participate aer doing so out of their own free will…

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  2. ‘If a robot is technically another person, we shouldn’t even be allowed to own it, because it should be entitled to its own freedom, as well as all of the other human rights.’ – Good point, that’d mean we’re all slave keepers! But wait…how can we all keep the same slave at our home? (talking of siri and cortana)

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  3. Hi, stopping by to comment on your post. It is an interesting topic. But I would like to share my own perspective. I don’t know if you believe in God or a creator. But suppose a higher entity created us and gave us free will and autonomy to choose if we wanna obey him or not. We have already reached at a point where a lot of us think that there is no need for a God to exist for us, since we think we can function without him/her and since we are free will and free thinkers we should do what we deem is right.

    I am not saying if artificial intelligent beings (autonomous robots) should have their rights or not. That is a very far fetched concept way down the line in future. But if we ever reach at this point that robots “have gained” their rights, well, that is because we all are in some way have become semi-robots by then, i.e majority of our body parts/organs are artificial or we are so advanced that we cannot tell apart who engineered who. At that point more sophisticated intelligent robots will question why they cannot have human rights since they are equal or better than humans. I think that is scary and we should not reach at that level as a civilization when your own creations disobey you.

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    • Hmmm, I don’t believe in god myself, but I guess a question I would have for someone who does believe in god is whether you think we would be playing god by creating robots/creatures that could consciously make their own decisions… Also, how would robots gain their rights??? thanks for commenting!

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      • To answer the first question-
        From an engineering perspective, NO, because when we create stuff for the pure convenience of making lives better via innovation/creativity-then we do not play God. If that is playing, then everything from learning to create fire till now would be a game against God. But this is part of human evolution-to learn and grow by innovation. But the concept of God might be different to different people. For some, God is an eternal being- the supreme sources of all energy who created everything or everything is created out of him/her. To others God might just be a smart guy with beard in the cloud. So the answer changes according to that. One is without any limit and the other is with limits. I won’t tell you what is my personal believe.
        However, if the individual’s or society’s intention is to harm the environment or other living beings than that is like trying to play God by going against the harmony of the natural system.
        As to answer the second question- how robots can gain rights? Well, humans and animals are “beings”. Is an artificial intelligent machine considered a being? If we reach a time when AI are also considered beings, which is an aftermath of the era of neural lace and artificial organs-then sure, they might be able to gain rights just like LGBT and everyone else.

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  4. So I’m here again to comment. At first, I like your choice of title, your way of writing, as I already stated, and the questions you bring up. Many of your topics are not the things I usually think about so I guess I have to thank you. But for the more substantial part: I personally think, that there shouldn’t be laws for robots such as the right to choose what to do. Why? Because it is artificial intelligence. It is made by us. A robot is designed to do a specific thing and, as you stated, should make our lives easier. The thing that makes us human, is in my view, that we are all the same, yet unique. There are things that are the same in every human and you cannot deny. The blood which floats through our veins, the brain controlling everything, even without conscious. And in the same way we all make up a different personality. These are the things which make us in my view human. And these things are hard to achieve by artificial Intelligence.

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    • Hey,
      Thanks so much for commenting again on my blog, it means a lot that:1) you’re coming back to my blog and 2) That you like what I post! I completely agree with you when you say that what makes us human is the ability for us to be so individual and unique while still all belonging to the same species. I think we are quite a way off from our artificial machines achieving anything remotely similar to what we have as people (if that day even comes in the first place). The essence of a human life is something that I think technology will get close to, but never achieve.

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