In what deluded universe would anyone consider giving legal status and privileges to a machine that only resembles a human and does mechanical, routine tasks on command?
The answer: this one right here.
With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) – which is both “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers” and “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior” – some people are wondering if sophisticated AI robots have crossed the ethical line into human territory.
Unlike other machines, a robot makes decisions on its own, without an operator. An AI robot like the Atlas from Boston Dynamics is programmed to avoid potentially damaging activities like running itself into trees – and it can do back flips from a standing position!
It is the intelligence component of AI that seduces some people into thinking that a machine is equivalent (or even superior) to a human being, and therefore deserves comparable civil rights.
Just to be clear, Collins Dictionary tells us that civil rights are: “the rights that people have in a society to equal treatment and equal opportunities, whatever their race, sex, or religion.”
Any discussion about civil rights describes such a recipient of human equality as an “individual” or a “person.” At this point in history, societies are deciding whether or not to include AI machines in this legal and ethical category. The future of the world, in a very real and large sense, will be directed by those answers. The process has already begun.
In October 2017, Saudi Arabia shocked the world when they introduced Sophia, a very human-like machine built to resemble a young adult woman. It (we just can’t use the personal pronoun “she” because this isn’t a ship or hurricane) was presented as benign, programmed to act friendly and, of course, always upbeat, and generally non-threatening. Sophia was “interviewed” on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon talk show which indicates the mainstream media has been instructed to make light of this very serious subject.
In November 2017, a “chatbot” named Shibuya Mirai was given official residence in Tokyo, Japan. Mirai is the Japanese word for “future” and this talkative robot that looks like a seven-year-old boy is part of that country’s program to desensitize its citizens against the fundamental mechanical nature of all things AI. Mirai was designed for one purpose: to listen to the opinions of Shibuya residents.
Shibuya Mirai, the “sophisticated robot” granted official residency in Japan
Here is what Shibuya is actually doing, as reported by Newsweek. Note the use of the personal pronouns “his” and “he” in this quote from Shibuya Ward:
“His hobbies are taking pictures and observing people. He loves talking with people. Please talk to him about anything.”
Oh my, isn’t this exactly what Hitler and his Nazi Gestapo (WWII German state secret police known for its brutal tactics) were working toward? Japan is very cleverly initiating a public surveillance and “snitch-and-tell” program unparalleled in human history.
Keep in mind that not all robots look like humans or even animals. Consider the Roomba or the newest automotive fad, driverless cars. Would we give them civil rights if they got smart enough?
Did you know that the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution last year to create a special legal status termed “electronic persons” for highly advanced autonomous robots? The idea is under serious review by the European Commission (EC), the executive of the European Union.
CNN Tech and other sources revealed that more than 150 “experts in robotics, artificial intelligence, law, medical science and ethics” signed an open letter to the EC objecting to this particular clause in the EP’s resolution to advocate:
“Creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run, so that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons responsible for making good any damage they may cause, and possibly applying electronic personality to cases where robots make autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.”
In a nutshell, these European AI experts find no grounds for granting legal status to machines from the Natural Person model, the Legal Entity model, or the Anglo-Saxon Trust model. The group of forward thinkers affirmed that:
“The European Union must prompt the development of the AI and Robotics industry insofar as to limit health and safety risks to human beings. The protection of robots’ users and third parties must be at the heart of all EU legal provisions.”
Human health and safety risks are at the heart of the issue of giving legal equality to machines. Genius innovator and inventor Elon Musk made a documentary earlier this year (2018) and made this dire prediction:
“If one company or small group of people manages to develop god-like superintelligence, they could take over the world. At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there will be no death – it would live forever. And then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape.”
A world ruled by robot dictators is not the future most of us envision and welcome for our children and future generations. A proactive approach to deny robot civil rights is the best way to prevent that from happening.