Should Robots Have Civil Rights?

In Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (and in the movie Blade Runner), the question of android rights is debated.


(Roy Batty discusses death [see the final scene] )

This question is debated by academics as well, like Ryan Calo of the University of Washington law school.

Calo observes that robots have a way of undermining the law's clear distinction "between a thing and a person.... You get compensated differently when someone else's negligence results in injury to property than to a person. When property is involved, you get market value. With people you have been deprived of that person's companionship. To the extent that people become heavily enmeshed socially with robots, the law will have to decide into what category to sort them." Calo doesn't foresee the creation of "stand-alone rights" for robots, even to the extent the law has begun to recognize animal rights. Rather, he sees the law extending the rights and responsibilities of owners to their robots -- if one uses a software agent or "bot" to make a deal, for example, the owner should be held to its terms unless something about it looks "objectively implausible."

As robots become more lifelike and integrated into our social interactions, Calo says, the law may begin to treat human-robot interactions as indicators of human predispositions. Today, he observes, some police officers are instructed that if they respond to an animal abuse complaint in a home where children are present, they should alert child welfare services. "You could imagine tweaking those policies to apply if you were to have reports that someone was kicking their robot dog."

From Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw and LATimes, and the final scene from Blade Runner.

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