The Right(s) Question: Can and Should Robots Have Rights?

In: Artificial Intelligence
David J. Gunkel
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In a recent proposal issued by the European Parliament it was suggested that robots and artificial intelligence might need to be considered “electronic persons” for the purposes of social and legal integration. The very idea sparked controversy, and it has been met with considerable resistance. Underlying the controversy, however, is an important philosophical question: Under what conditions would it be necessary for robots, AI, or other socially interactive, autonomous systems to have some claim to moral and legal standing? Under what conditions would a technological artifact need to be considered more than a mere instrument of human action and have some legitimate claim to independent social status? Or to put it more directly: Can or should robots ever have anything like rights? This essay takes up and investigates these questions. It reviews and critiques current thinking (or lack of thinking) about this subject matter, maps the terrain of the set of available answers that have been provided in the existing literature, and develops an alternative way of responding to and taking responsibility for the opportunities and challenges that we now confront in the face or the faceplate of increasingly social and interactive robots.

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Artificial Intelligence

Reflections in Philosophy, Theology, and the Social Sciences