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Rights of Robots:
Culture and Law in the 21ST Century
Phil McNally and Sohail Inayatullah*
the last five years, the Hawaii Judiciary has developed as part of
its comprehensive planning program, a futures research component.
Initially futures research was largely concerned with
identifying emerging issues; that is issues that are low in
awareness to decision makers and high in potential impact.1
present the Courts futures program is engaged in a variety of
study the impact of possible legislation on the Judiciary, forecast
future caseloads, publish a newsletter of emerging issues, trends,
and research findings2, and provide research information
to decision makers as to the future of technology, economy,
population, management and crime.
in the past few years of concentrating on short and medium term
futures, we have remained fascinated by one long term emerging
issue‑‑the Rights of Robots.
predictable response to the question: should robots have rights has
been one of disbelief. Those
in government often question the credibility of an agency that funds
such research. Many
futurists, too, especially those concerned with environmental or
humanistic futures, react unfavorably.
They assume that we are unaware of the second and third order
effects of robotics‑‑the potential economic
dislocations, the strengthening of the world capitalist system, and
the development of belief systems that view the human brain as only
a special type of computer.
then in the face of constant ridicule should we pursue such a topic.
We believe that the development of robots and their emerging
rights is a compelling issue which will signficantly and
dramatically impact not only the judicial and criminal justice
system, but also the philosophical and political ideas that govern
our societal institutions.
the coming decades, and perhaps even years, sophisticated thinking
devices will be developed and installed in self‑propelled
casings which will be called robots.
Presently robots are typically viewed as machines; as
inanimate objects and therefore devoid of rights.
Since robots have restricted mobility, must be artifically
programmed for "thought,"lack senses as well as the
emotions associated with them, and most importantly cannot
experience suffering or fear, they, it is argued, lack the essential
attributes to be considered alive.
However, the robot of tomorrow will undoubtedly have many of
these characteristics and may perhaps become an intimate companion
to its human counterpart.
believe that robots will one day have rights.
This will undoubtedly be a historically significant event.
Such an extension of rights obviously presupposes a future
that will be fundamentally different from the present.
The expansion of rights to robots may promote a new
appreciation of the interrelated rights and responsibilities of
humans, machines and nature.
such an holistic extension of rights to all things in nature from
animals and trees to oceans comes a renewed sense of responsibility,
obligation and respect for all things.
Certainly these concepts are foreign to the worldview of most
of us today. The burden
of this paper is then to convince the reader that there is strong
possibility that within the next 25 to 50 years robots will have
definition of rights has been historically problematic.
In part, it is an unresolved problem because there are
numerous disparate definitions of what constitutes
fundamentally different views are largely politically, institutional
and culturally based. Those
in or with power tend to define rights differently then those out of
or without power. In
addition, cultures with alternative cosmologies define notions of
natural, human, and individual rights quite differently.
humanity has developed ethnocentric and egocentric view of rights.
Many notions of "rights" reflect the 16th century
views of Newton's clockwork universe and Descarte's rationality as
well as the emerging Protestant ethic.
The impact of such views upon thinkers of the Enlightenment
like John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes was
profound. In Leviathan,
Hobbes vividly illustrated the problem of existence.
For Hobbes, life without legal rights (as provided by
governing institutions) was one of "continual fear, of violent
death; with the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and
the development of Western capitalism and rationality, suddenly man
assumed dominance over nature and replaced God as the center of the
universe. Thus natural
rights of man became institutionalized, bureaucratized and
formalized and like legal systems developed along rational lines so
as to provide the necessary stability and predictability for the
growth of market capitalism.
addition, this Western capitalistic notion of governance led to the
loss of individual efficacy as well as the elimination or
subjugation of rights of nature, women, non‑whites, and
religious groups. For
capitalism to thrive, for surplus to be appropriated, a division of
capital, labor and resources must exist; that is there must be
capitalists who exploit and the underclass‑‑the
environment, the internal proleteriat and the external
colonies‑‑who must be exploited.
To provide an ideological justification of exploitation, it
was necessary to percieve the exploited as the "other" as
less than human, as less then the agents of dominance.
Thus, nature, those in the colonies and the underclass within
industrialized nations (women and the proleteriat) had to be deined
certain rights. The
denial of rights for nature, in addition, found its ideological
justification from Christianity and the classical Cartesian
separation in Western thought between mind/body, self/environment
and self/nature. Similarly
and unfortunately from our persepective, the possibility of robotic
rights in the future is tied to the expansion of the world
capitalist system. Robots
will gain rights only insofar as such an event will lead to the
further strengthening of the capitalist system.
Most likely they will gain rights during a system crisis;
when the system is threatened by anarchy and legal
unpredictability‑‑a condition that paradoxically may
result from developments in artificial intelligence and robotics.
cultures however provide a different if not fresh perception of the
meaning and purpose of rights that is in marked contrast to the
historical and present Western position.
For example, American Indian Jamake Highwater states in The
Primal Mind, "whites are extremely devoted to limiting the
rights of individuals and preventing anarchy, which is greatly
feared in individualized cultures...by contrast the Indian,
generally speaking, does not recognize the individual and therefore
has not formulated strict regulations for its control"4
Indian recognizes the collective.
This collective is more than the aggregate of individuals in
his his tribe. It is
rocks, trees, sacred grounds, animals‑‑the universe
itself. Thus for the
Indian, there exists a harmony between Nature and the individual; a
relationship characterized by sharing, caring and gratitude, not
philospher, activist and mystic P.R. Sarkar states in Neo‑Humanism:
The Liberation of the Intellect5 that we must develop
a new humanism that transcends the narrow outlooks of the ego.
We must transcend our attachments to our nation, to our
religion and to our class. In
addition, humans must include animals and plants and all of life in
definitions of what constitutes "real" and "
cannot neglect the life of animals and plants.
Of course, this is not to say there should not be hierarchy
among species especially as human life is rare and precious; still
our economic development decisions, our food decisions must take
into consideration plants and animals as participants. The rights of
technology is a legitimate concern from the Eastern perspective
because all‑that‑is is alive. The universe is alive.
also forecasts the day when technology will have "mind" in
it. While this may seem
foreign to the Western notion of mind, for Sarkar "mind"
is in all things. Evolution
is the reflection, the development of this mind towards total
awareness, towards Godhood, Self‑realization.
Humans in general have the most developed mind, animals less,
plants even lesser and rocks the least.
Once technology can develop and become more subtle, then it,
like the brain, can become a better carrier of the mind.
Mind is constantly "looking" for vehicles to
express itself. Nothing
is souless, although there are gradations of awareness.6
Buddhist notion is similar to this.
For the Buddhist, the self is always changing: evolving and
humans as the sole inheritors of the planet at the expense of other
sentient beings leads to hubris and evil.
Again, the Buddha, nor any of his future disciples, developed
an explicit rights for robots; however, his perspective certainly
involves seeing All as persons not as things.
the American Indian, Yogic Sarkarian and the Buddhist perspective,
we must live in harmony with nature, with
technology‑‑things do not exist solely for our use as
humans, life exists for itself, or as a reflection of the Supreme
and Plants, then, as well as robots, should have rights not because
they are like humans, but of what they are, as‑themselves.
cultural attitudes towards the notion of rights also offer a
decidedly different approach than that of the West.
From this perspective, the legal norms of rights, established
by man, are held as secondary to natural rights.
Clarence Morris in The Justification of the Law argues
that for the Chinese, harmony instead of dominance is more
example, "few Chinese scholars prize law in general or the
imperial codes in particular: most of them hold that proper conduct
is consonate with the cosmic order and therefore is determined not
by law but by natural prppriety."8
continues in the vein of natural law noting that "we live in an
unsuperstitutious world‑‑in which enforceable legal
obligations (are) human artifices, and the laws of nature, in
themselves, (do) not indicate where earthly rights
(lay)‑‑man inevitably (has given) up the primitive
practice of prosecuting brutes and things.
So beasts and trees no longer (have) any legal duties.
Westerners who gave up the conceit that nature had legal
duties also became convinced that nature has no legal rights."9
believes that nature should be a party to any case, not for man's
purpose but for its purpose. Nature
should have rights. "Nature
should no longer be dislocated on whim or without forethought about
the harm that may ensue; he who proposes dislocation should justify
it before he starts."10
Certain authorities should then be designated as nature's
guardians in the same way that children who cannot represent
themselves have guardians. In
addition, writes Morris:11
legal rights are, by statute, conferred on feral beasts, green
forests, outcroppings of stone, and sweet air, and when these legal
rights are taken seriously, men will respect these duties in much
the same way as they respect their other legal obligations.
neo‑humanistic type of thinking can and, we believe, should
apply to robots as well. Eventually
humans may see robots in their own right, not only as our mechanical
slaves, not only as our products, as ours to buy and sell, but also
entities in their own right. Of
course, at present the notion of robots with rights is unthinkable,
whether one argues from an "everything is alive" Eastern
perspective or "only man is alive" Western perspective.
Yet as Christopher Stone argues in Should Trees Have
Standing?‑‑Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,
"throughout legal history, each successive extension of rights
to some new entity has been, theretofore, a bit unthinkable.
We are inclined to suppose the rightlessness of rightless
"things" to be a decree of Nature, not a legal convention
acting in support of some status quo."12
reminds us of the obvious but easily forgotten.
Human history is the history of exclusion and power.
Humans have defined numerous groups as less than human:
slaves, woman, the "other races", children and foreigners.
These are the wretched who have been defined as, stateless,
personless, as suspect, as rightless.
This is the present realm of robotic rights.
concept of extending right to nature represents a dialectical return
to a holistic sense of natural rights. Once a renewed respect of the
rights of all things to exist is established then an understanding
of the legal dimensions of human‑made creations, such as
robots, can emerge.
we enter a post‑industrial technology‑driven society, we
need to ressess our interconnected relationship with nature and
machines as well as the notions of rights associated with this new
and robotic technology are not only modernizing traditional
industries, they are also creating numerous new opportunities and
problems in space, genetic engineering, and war and defense systems.
The adaption of these new technologies in education,
healthcare and in our institutions as well as in our models of
thought are inevitable and may, through proper forecasting and
control, be positive. Any
continued attempt to ignore the needs of technology or to
deter its use would be foolish and impossible.
Yet, in many ways that is pricisely what we continue to do.
Presntly, the foundation of the American Constitution and the
Bill of Rights, "obviously reflects the technological and
political issues of 18th century English society...what we continue
to do is restructure and reinterpret it to fit an ever more rapidly
evolving technological society."13
Perhaps, what we really need to do, is to rewrite, or video,
the Constitution in the light of future trends and issues.
Constitution could be rewritten to include the rights of trees and
streams, robots and humans. Of
course, we are not aruging that robots should have the same rights
as humans, rather, that they are seen as an integral part of the
known universe. In
addition, although we are not advocating the worship of technology,
yet with " the genie of technology having been let out the
bottle and (as it) can be force(d) back in," 14
social planning for robots must be attempted.
rapid impact of computers upon the world since the development of
the first computer, UNIVAC in 1946, has been profound.
As little as ten years ago, the thought of having a personal
computer at one's office desk, home, or grade school seemed
far‑fetched indeed. Now
personal computers are accepted complacently as part of our modern
world. Computer brains
run cars, stereos, televisions, refrigerators, phone systems,
factories, offices, airplanes, and defense systems, to name a few
examples. The next
progression of the computer as a mobile unit, robot, may like the
personal computer, become a common and essential companion at home
and in the workplace.
the vanguard of computer technology is the development of artificial
intelligence (AI) and the creation of living computer circuitry
called "biochips." The
development of "AI" requires the computer to make a jump
in inference, a quantum leap over miscellaneous data, something a
programmed machine has been unable to do.
Literally, the computer must skip variables rather than
measure each one. It is
not quite a mirror of the human gestalt "aha" illunimation
of a decision but similar.
of the essential difficulties in developing such a thinking computer
is the problem of converting the holistic process of thought into
the linear description of written language.
Common sense reasoning does not conform to the logic of
computer languages as FORTRAN.
"For instance there is no program around today that will
tell the difference between a dish and a cup."15
What is needed is the development of a new language for
programming which combines the multiple meanings of Chinese
pictography with the preciseness of Western script.
development of living "biochips" will further blur the
definition of a living machine.
By synthesizing living bacteria, scientists have found a way
to program the bacteria's genetic development to mimic the on and
off switching of electronic circuitry.
Many scientists presently feel silicon miniturization has
reached its limit because of the internal heat that they generate.
The "biochip" is then expected to greatly expand
the capabilities of computerization by reaching the ultimate in
also will have the unique ability to correct design flaws.
Moreover, James McAlear, of Gentronix Labs notes,
"because proteins have the ability to assemble themselves the
(organic) computer would more or less put itself together."16
the creation of a living computer system "we are, according to
Kevin Ulmer of The Genex Corporation, making a computer from the
very stuff of life."17
Eventually it is expected that these systems will be so
miniturized that they may be planted in humans so as to regulate
chemical and systemic imbalances.
As these chips are used to operate mechanical arms, or negate
brain or nerve damage the issue of man‑robots, cyborgs, will
arise. The development
of such organic computers is expected in the early 1990's.
This new technolgical development will force a redefinition
of our conception of life.
this explosive era of high‑tech innovation, contact between
machine with artificial intelligence and humans will rapidly
intelligent devices, especially expert systems, are now making
decisions in medicine, oil exploration, space travel, air traffic
control, train conduction, and graphic design to mention a few areas
greatest attribute of an expert system is its infinite ability to
store the most minute information and its tremendous speed at
recalling and cross referencing information to make instantaneous
greatest drawback will be in convincing people to trust the
computers decisions. This,
mistrust, however, will be signficantly reduced as robots in human
form (voice, smell, sight,
deciding if computers can make experts decisions, we must first
delineate the attributes of an expert?
Randall Davis of MIT provides the following definition:
"(1) they can solve problems; (2) they can explain results; (3)
they can learn by experience; (4) they can restructure their
knowledge; (5) they are able to break rules when necessary; (6) they
can determine relevance; and (7) their performance degrades
gracefully as they reach the limits of their knowledge."18
Presently computers are capable of achieving the first three
stages but cannot reprogram themselves or break rules, a decidedly
presently are construed to be dead, inanimate.
However, an argument can be made that with advances in
artificial intelligence, robots will be considered
N. Lehman‑Wilzig in his essay titled "Frankenstein
Unbound: Towards a legal definition of Artificial Intelligence"19
presents evidence that Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines already
created or theoretical possible will be by most definitions alive.
We quote extensively from this landmark article:
any definition the present powers of AI machines are both impressive
and worrisome. Cyberneticists
have already created or proven that AI constructs can do the
"Imitate the behavior of any other machine."21
Exhibit curiosity (ie are always moving to
investigate their environment);
display self‑recognition (ie react to the sight of
themselves); and manifest mutual recognition of members of their own
Learn from their own mistakes.23
Be as "creative" and "purposive" as are
humans, even to the extent of "look[ing]
which they can fulfill."24
Reproduce themselves, in five fundamentally different modes, of which the
fifth‑‑the "probabilistic mode of
self‑reproduction"‑‑closely arallels biological evolution
through mutations (which in the case of [machines] means random
changes of elements), so that "highly efficient, complex,
powerful automata can evolve from inefficient, simple, weak
"Can have an unbounded life span through
short, "a generation of robots is rapidly evolving,
a breed that can see, read, talk,
learn, and even feel
the essential question remains‑‑can these machines
be considered to be
"alive?" Kemeny presents six
criteria which distinguish living
matter: metabolism, locomotion,
individuality, intelligence, and a
all six, he
servo‑mechanisms clearly pass the test.29
Even a critic of AI such as
Weizenbaum admits that
computers are sufficiently
"complex and autonomous" to
be called an "organism"
an ability to be "socialized."
He sees "no way to
put a bound on the degree of
intelligence such an
organism could, at least in
although from his critical vantage
the "visible future."30
from this perspective, robots are indeed "alive."
However, we should note the worldview behind this
perspective; it is based on the assumption that we can compare a
human brain to a computer brain, that creativity is something that
is not divinely inspired, it is simply the "juxtaposing of
previously existing information"31‑‑thus
humans and computers can be equally creative.
"Humaness" then is defined by aliveness, the
ability to make decisions, to reflect, learn and
discriminate‑‑reflective awareness, to ask the
questions, Do I exist? Who am I?
enthusiasts seriously argue that not only do robots have the
theoretically possibility of "life" but inevitably will be
perceived as alive. It
is only our "humancentricness," our insistence that life
must be judged strictly on human terms as evidenced, for instance,
by the structural bias in our language, that prevents us from
understanding the similarity of robots‑‑now and in the
Of course, there are numerous arguments against this
perspective. From the
Western religious view, Man's soul is given directly by God; robots
are souless, thus, dead and thereby rightless.
From a humanistic perspective, only by the clever use of
language‑‑comparing our brains to robot's memories, and
other reductionist arguments‑‑can it be argued that
robots are alive. Aliveness
is flesh and bones, aliveness is blood.
Thus, robots remain dead complex machines that can be made to
act and look like humans, but will always remain as robots, not
humans. As the case
with B.F. Skinner's pigeons who were trained to hit a
ping‑pong ball back and forth, we should not be fooled to
believe that they are really "playing" ping‑pong.
compelling these arguments against robots‑as‑humans,
they may lose some of their instinctive truth once computers and
robots increasingly become a part of our life, as we slowly
renegotiate the boundaries of us and them.
We have seen this with household pets, who certainly are
perceived as having human traits and who have certain rights.
Of course, the notion that dogs and cats have rights is
contentious, since it can be argued that cruelty to animal statutes
only confer a right on the human public, represented by the State,
to have a culprit punished. Conversely,
it can be argued that humans are simply acting as agents of interest
and that animals themselves are the real parties of interest.
We will further develop the contours of the definition of a
rightholder later on in this paper.
addition, arguing from the perspective of robot's rights, AI and
robotics are relatively new innovations.
If we assume that growth in computermemory continues, we can
safely forecast that computers and robots by the year 2100 will only
differ in physical form from humans.
computers that preform psychotherpy cannot be distinguished from
doctors who do the same, although clearly computers are not
thinking. For example,
in the 1960's MIT Professor Joseph Weisenbaum invented a computer
program ELIZA to parody a therapist in a doctor‑patient format
picking up key phrases, making grammatical substitutions and
providing encouraging non‑committal responses.
"Weizenbaum was soon schocked to see people become
emotionally involved with the computer, believing that ELIZA
understood them... the computer program had properties and powers
that he had not anticipated."32
Nor had he anticipated the needs of humans to attribute human
characteristics to gods, animals and inanimate objects.
such as ELIZA, however, are only a beginning.
Far more complex programs will be developed untill
distinctions between human thought and computer‑generated
thought become impossible. Our
perceptions of thinking, life, will continue to change as a response
to changing technology and changing beliefs of what is natural.
These perceptions may change to such a degree that, one day,
robots, may have legal rights.
what does it mean to have legal rights?
At present, but not necessarily so in the future, an entity
cannot have a right "unless and untill some public
authoritative body is prepared to give some amount of review to
actions that are colorably inconsistent with that
However, according to Christoper Stone, for a thing to be a
holder of legal rights, the following criteria must be satisfied:
(1) the thing can institute legal actions at its behest; (2)
that in determining the granting of legal relief, the Court must
take injury to it into account; and the relief must run to
the benefit of it. If
these conditions are satisfied then the thing counts jurally, it has
legally recognized worth and dignity for its own sake. 34
example, writes Stone, the action of an owner suing and collecting
damages if his slave is beaten is quite differently from the slave
instituting legal actions himself, for his own recovery, because of
his pain and suffering.35
Of course, a suit could be brought by a guardian in the
subject's name in the case of a child or a robot, for the child's or
robot's sake, for damages to it.
is equally true for Nature as well. We cannot always rely on
individuals to protect Nature, as they may not have standing and as
it may not be cost‑effective for an individual owner to, say
for example, sue for damages for downstream pollution. However, a
stream may be protected by giving it legal rights.
If Nature had rights, Court's then would not only weigh the
concerns of the polluter with that of the individual plaintiff but
the rights of the stream as well.
With Nature rightless, Courts presently can rule that it is
in the greater public interest to allow Business to continue
pollution as Industry serves a larger public interest.
"The stream," writes Stone," is lost sight of
in a quantitative compromise between two conflicting
we can anticipate cases and controversies where the needs of robot
developers, manufacturers and users will be weighed against those
who are against robots (either because they have been injured by a
robot, because of their religious perspectives or because of their
labor interests). Judges will have to weigh the issues and decide
between parties. But,
unless robots themselves have rights, they will not be a party to
the decision. They will
not have standing. They
will not be legally real.
certainly as robot technology develops, as they are utilized to
increase humanity's collective wealth‑‑albeit in a
capitalistic framework, robots will only increase the gap between
rich and poor, between employed and unemployed‑‑their
future will be inextricably tied to our future, as is the case with
the environment today.
important as defining legal rights is developing a theory on how
rights emerge. They, of
course, do not suddenly appear in Courts.
Neal Milner has developed a useful theory on the emergence of
rights from a synthesis of literature on children's rights, women's
rights, right's of the physically and mentally handicapped, rights
to health, legal mobilization and legal socialization.37
first stage in this theory is imagery.
Here imagery stressing rationality of the potential
rights‑holder is necessary. From this perspective, the robot
then must be defined as a rational actor, an actor with intent.
This, however, is only true from the Western perspective.
From the Eastern perspective, previously outlined,
rationality does not define life.
next stage of rights emergence requires a justifying ideology.
Ideologies justifying changes in imagery develop.
These, according to Milner, include ideologies by agents of
social control and those on the part of potential rights holders or
their representatives. These ideologies would be developed by
scientists, science fiction writers, philosophers and perhaps even
futurists. They would have to argue that robots are a legitimate
category of life.
next stage is one of changing authority patterns.
Here authority patterns of the institutions governing the
emerging rights holders begin to change.
It is not clear what institution directly control
robots‑‑the intellectual/academic university sector, or
business/manufacturers, or government/military?
Howevers, as rights for robots emerge we can forecast
conflicts between various institutions that control them and within
those institutions themselves.
Milner next sees the development of "social networks
that reinforce the new ideology and that form ties among potential
clients, attorneys and intermediaries."38 We would
see the emergence of support groups for robots with leading
scientists joining political organizations.
The next stage involves access to legal representation.
This is followed by routinization, wherein legal
representation is made routinely available.
Finally government uses its processes to represent the
course, this is just a general model.
The initial step will be the most difficult.
Arguing that robots have rationality, especially from the
Western perspective which reserves rationalities for
self‑directed, individual, autonomous adult persons will be
difficult. Given the
dominance of the West, it may be that robots will not gain rights
until there are seen or imaged in the above manner.
eventually, AI technoloy may reach a genesis stage which will bring
robots to a new level of awareness that can be considered alive,
wherein they will be perceived as rational actors.
At this stage, we can expect robot creators, human companions
and robots themselves to demand some form of recognized rights as
well as responsibilities. What
types of rights will be demanded?
Basic human rights of life, friendship and caring?
The right to reproduce?
The right to self programming (self expression)?
The right to be wrong? The
right to intermarry with humans?
The right to an income?
The right to time off from the job?
The right to a trial by its peers (computers)?
The right to be recognized as victims of crimes?
The right to protection of unwarranted search and seizure of
its memory bank? The
right to protection from cruel and unusual punishments such as the
termination of its power supply?
a brief play script Don Mitchell vividly illustrates the future
image of the blue collor industrial robot on the assembly line as
one of danger, monotony and despair.
Here the exploitation of robots is a reflection of the human
exploitation incurred during early 20th century industrialization.
However, unlike their human counterparts these robots have no
way to voice their suffering. This
situation raises these types of questions; "How do you measure
value? By the price
tag? By the need?
By the blood and sweat that goes into making something?
Robots do not produce labor value, though.
There is no mechanical Karl Marx to save them."39
in the discussion of robot rights questions like the above are
difficult to answer. Yet
robots continue to replace their human counterparts on the assembly
line and at the factory in a rapidly increasing pace.
They are replacing humans because of their high productivity
and low cost. Faster robots do not tire, more reliable robots do not
have family problems, drink or do drugs, cheaper to maintain robots
do not strike for wages and fringe benefits, for example.
the initial question that will be raised is: How are robotic
generated goods and services to be distributed in the community?
The distribution of this wealth requires a new conception of
ownership, production, and consumption.
In a potential world without work some form of redistribution
of wealth will be necessary. "In
Sweeden employers pay the same taxes for robots that they do for
human employees. In
Japan some companies pay union dues for robots."40
Supporters of robotic rights might say that computers are
paying these taxes and dues from their labor and should derive
rights for such labor.
questions of distribution of wealth come questions of ownership.
In the very near future it is expected that computers will
begin to design their own software programs.
Considering the fact that, "the Copyright Act limits
copyright protection to the author's lifetime,
is clearly inappropriate for a computer, it would then seem that a change
in the law may be needed to provide proper protection for programs
with non‑human authors."41
rights and responsibilities will then be needed to protect humans
and robots alike. This
need should give rise to a new legal specialty like environmental
law, robotic law. With
this new specialty we may find lawyers defending the civil rights of
self‑aware robots which could take the following form:
"to protect the super‑robot from total and irreversible
loss of power (LIFE); to free the robot from slave labor (LIBERTY);
and allow it to choose how it spends it time (THE PURSUIT OF
will then see an avalanche of cases: we will have robots that have
killed humans, robots that have been killed by humans, robots who
have stolen state secrets, robots who have been stolen; robots who
have taken hostages, robots who have been held hostage, robots who
carry illegal drugs across boarders, and robots themselves who
illegally cross national boarders.
Cases will occur in general when robots damage something or
someone or a robot itself is damaged or terminated.
In addition, robots will soon enter our homes as machines to
save labor, and as machines to provide child care and protection.
Eventually these entities will become companions to be loved,
defended and protected.
that are damaged or damaged or break other human laws will raise
various complex issues. Of
course at present, robot damage will be simply a tort case, just as
if ones car was damaged. But
an attorney will one day surely argue that the robot has priceless
worth. It is not a car. It talks, it is loved and it
robot, then, like a human, has been injured.
Its program and wires damaged.
In this scenario, we will then need to have special tort laws
legal system is today unprepared for the development of robotic
crimes. Recently, the Morbidity
and Mortality Weekly Report
cited the first death caused by a robot.
This accident occurred when a machinist at a Michigan company
entered a robots work envelope.
Apparently not programmed to take human frailty into account
the robot used its arm to pin the man to a safety pole killing him
with the force."43
This case is considered an industrial accident and could have
possibly been avoided if the robot had an improved sense of sight
and more careful programming. In
the future, robotic legislation may require laws similar to Issac
Asimov's First Law Of Robotics that prevent the injury of
humans by robots. These
laws could be coded into the robots memory such that robots will
have to terminate themselves if a conflict arises.44
However, we can easily imagine scenarios where a robot will have to
choose betwen one and many humans or situations wherein its own
termination may cause injuries to humans.
These issues and conflicts will task programmers, the legal
systems, and robots themselves.
(the computers within) robots begin to program themselves according
to external stimuli the robot may begin to commit crimes completely
independent of earlier human programming.
If a robot can commit a crime
a number of problematic questions will arise.
"Can a robot intend to commit a crime?
How is a robot to be punished?
Is it sufficient to reprogram it?
To take it apart? To
penalize its owner? Its
questions also raise problems concerning criminal trials that
involve robots. Many
court procedures will need to be adapted to accommodate the needs of
such cases. This
situation will be exacerbated by the development of robots who serve
as witnesses for robots or provide expert testimony.
Certainly, "a trial by a jury of peers seems
inappropriate and certainly the 6th and 14th amendments guarantees
to such a trial do not apply to robots."46
Or do they?
understand the legal principles that can be applied to robots we
must first have an understanding of the emerging electronic
relevant in developing scenarios is the future of the Judiciary and
the legal system itself.47
Courts themselves in the next fifty years may be
robot‑computer run. Judges
are faced with a rapidly expanding caseload where the must analyze
legal documents, settle plea bargains, determine sentences, keep
abreast of social, economic and political issues as well as act
court administrators. Furthermore,
as the Courts continue to act as political and social
decisionmakers, judges must cope with complex scientific and
technological issues. Of
this situation critics note "judges have little or no training
or background to understand and resolve problems of nuclear physics,
toxicology, hydrology, biotechnology or a myriad of other
Computer technology should then be incorporated into the
judicial process to aid in decisionmaking.
first step will be judges using computers to aid in searching out
the most appropriate precedent to fit the present case.
The development of a legal reasoning robot could serve as a
valuable adjunct to a judges ability to render fair decisions.
"As computers grow more elaborate and versatile (they)
can better cope with the complexities of law, judgements and
A legal reasoning robot could "serve as a repository of
knowledge outlining the general parameters of the law...assisting in
the reasoning process necessary to reach a conclusion."50
As logic oriented companion and a massive knowledge bank with
the ability to instantly recall legal facts, precedent and procedure
a legal robot would greatly assist the judicial system by speeding
up court procedure, minimizing appeals based on court error, and
preventing legal maneuvering resulting in fewer cases brought to
as enough statistics are compiled, judges may not be that necessary
except at the appellate level.
Judges could then be free to vigorously pursue the legal and
philosophical dimensions of societal problems.
Of course, initially during the pre‑trial phase, humans
would be necessary. Attorneys
would enter the facts into computers (manually, through
voice‑telecommunications) and a motions judge could monitor
discovery and fact finding. Computers
would then decide the case outcome.51
In addition, as most cases are negotiated (only about 5
percent ever end up in trial,52) we will see the
continued development and sophistication of negotiation and
mediation programs. Disputants
would enter their side of the problem, the computer‑robot
would interact with each side and aid in reaching a settlement.
Computers might inspire trust as they can instantaneously and
annonymously provide relevant previous cases to both disputants.
They can inform the disputants how the case might be settled
(in terms of probabilities) if they went to trial or if they
settled, that is they could provide a range of alternative choices
and solutions. In
addition, AI programs, as we are seeing in computerized
psychotherapy, allow individuals to relax and "open up
being impressed by the "intelligence of
robot‑judges" we might gain trust in the machines because
of the magic they invoke and they authority they command.
This magic and authority may lead to an increased belief in
the fairness of the Judiciary.
course, fairness is not a given; it is a political issue.
Law, unlike mathematics is laden with assumptions and biases.
Decisionmaking is an act of power.
Intitially the use of comptuers will shift power in the court
system from judges to programmers.
Judges of course, if they allow AI to enter their courtroom,
will do their best to keep control of the law and programmers.
However, given the anticipated development of robotics,
eventually we may see computers changing the programming and
developing novel solutions to cases.
If computers can develop creativity then judges and other
experts will have to find new roles and purposes for themselves.
although it is presently ludicrous, a day may come when robots
attorneys negotiate or argue in front of a robot judge with a robot
plaintiff and defendent.
understand in more concrete terms the legal future of robots, we
must understand what legal principles will be applied to conflicts
that involve robots. Lehman‑Wilzig's
article on the legal definition of artificial intelligence is
extremely useful. He
presents various legal principles which may be of relevance to robot
cases. They include:
product liability, dangerous animals, slavery, diminished
capacity, childeren, and agency.53
would be applied as long a robots are believed to be complex
machines. Not only will
the manufacturer be liable, say in the case when a robot guard
shoots an intruder, but so will "importers, wholesalers, and
retailers (and their individual employees if personally negligent);
repairers, installers, inspector, and certifiers.54
Thus those that produce, regulate, transport, and use the
robot will be liable to some degree.
Certainly, as caseload for robot liability cases mount
insurance companies will be cautious about insuring robots.
Moreover, we can imagine the day when manufacturers will
argue that the robot is alive and that the company is not liable.
Although the company may have manufactured the robot, they
will argue that since then the robot has either (1) reprogrammed
itself or (2) the new owner has reprogrammed it.
The argument then will be that it is the robot which should
suffer damages and if it has no money, other parties who are
partially liable under the joint severibility law should pay the
entire bill‑‑the deep pockets principle.
When the first attorney will call a robot on stand is
difficult to forecast but not impossible to imagine.
liability will be especially problematic for AI, because of the
present distinction between hardware and software.
For the robot that kills, is the manufacturer of the arms
liable, or the software designer, the owner, or is there no
liability‑‑Human beware, computer around!
Will we see no‑fault computer insurance law?
danger that robots may cause would logically increase as they become
auto‑locomoative, that is, once they can move.
At this stage law relating to dangerous animals may be
applicable to robots. Like
animals, they move and like animals they give a sense of
intelligence, although whether they actually are intelligent is a
political‑ philosophical question. Lehman‑Wilzing
the difference in tort responsibility between product liability and
dangerous animals is relatively small, the transition does involve a
quantum jump from a metaphysical standpoint.
As long as AI robots are considered mere machines no
controversial evaluative connotations are placed on their
essence‑‑they are inorganic matter pure and simple.
However, applying the legal principle of dangerous animals
(among others) opens a jurisprudential and definitional Pandora's
Box, for ipso facto the "machine" will have
been transformed into a legal entity with properties of
consciousness, if not some semblance of free will.
Once begun, the legal development towards the
"higher" categories will be as inexorable as the physical
expansion of robotic powers. In
short, the move from the previous legal category to the present one
is the most critical step; afterwards, further jurisprudential
evolution becomes inevitable.
is important to remember here that as important as legal rights,
those rights that can resolved or judged by a public authority,
there are human rights. These
often cannot be resolved by any judicial authority.
The right to employment, the right to minimum basic
necessities, and other United Nations Charter human rights although
stated morally and unequivocally cannot be guaranteed given that
rights are politically won and lost.
Rights, thus, are gained through
ideologically‑‑philosophical as well as
the structure of dominance in the world today: between nations,
peoples, races, and sexes, the most likely body of legal theory that
will be applied to robots will be that which sees robots as slaves.
They will be ours to use and abuse.
Of course, as Stone has pointed out, this means that they
will have no legal status. The slave and the robot cannot institute
proceedings himself, for his own recovery, wherein damages are
recovered for his pain and suffering.
Will errant robots have to be responsible for their actions,
or will owners who argue that the slave understood the intent of his
or her actions make the slave responsible?
If the manufacturer or owner is liable in civil cases and
guilty of wrong doing in criminal cases, then he will certain argue
that the robot understands intent, understands its programming.
If this line of argument succeeds, then the robot can then
pursue his own case. Most
likely as mentioned earlier, it will be the programmer or group of
programmers who will be responsible.
problem of punishment is also problematic.
Robots have neither money nor property.
One way would be to give the robot to the injured party for
his economic use. Another
would be to eliminate the robot or to reprogram the robot.
This may be analogous to the present debate on the right of
the foetus: is it alive, do we have the right to terminate it?
Also, who has the right to terminate a robot who has taken a
human life, or a robot who is no longer economically useful?
We would not be surprised if in the 21st century we have
right to life groups for robots.
argues that another category for robots would be that of diminished
capacity‑‑"used for those individuals who are
legally independent but have a diminished capacity for initiating
actions or understanding the consequences of such actions at the
time they are being committed."56
Of course, what is important here is intent.
However, robots will not be the stupidest of
species‑‑more likely they will be the most
intelligent‑‑at question will be their morality, their
more useful of a category is that of children, or the whiz kid.
High in brain power and low in wisdom.
Moreover, more useful, yet also ultimately problematic is
that of the law of agency.
As Lehman‑Wilzeg writes:57
begin with, the common law in some respects relates to the agent as
a mere instrument. It
is immaterial whether the agent himself has any legal capacity, for
since he is a sort of tool for his principal he could be a slave,
infant, or even insane.58 ..."it is possible for one
not sui juris to exercise an agency power."59
Indeed, the terms automation and human machine have been used
in rulings to describe the agent.60
Nor must there be any formal acceptance of responsibility on
the apart of the agent[.]...The only element required for authority
to do acts or conduct transactions61...is the
communication by one person to another that the other is to act on
his account and subject to his orders.
Acceptance by the other is unnecessary.
Thus, ...[g]enerally speaking, anyone can be an agent who is
in fact capable of performing the functions involved.
Here, then, is a legal category already tailor‑made for
such a historical novelty as the humanoid.
it is true that the law of agency may be tailor‑made, given
that law is itself changing, given that in the next ten years there
may emerge a science court to deal with questions of science and
technology (questions that lawyers and judges devoid of scientific
and technological training can rarely adequately understand), and
given rapid changes in robotics and computers, is it all possible to
forecast the legal principles in which AI robots can be understood?
although the legal categories presented‑‑from product
liability to agency‑‑are useful heuristics, the fantastic
notion of the robotic rights behooves us to remember that
development in robots may result in (or may need) entirely new legal
principles and futures.
perspective and useful heuristic in understanding the rights of
robots involves developing two continuums at right angles with each
other. At one end of
the x‑axis would be life as presently defined: real live,
flesh and bones, reflective consciousness and soul.
At the other end would be robots in much the way that many
see them today‑‑a mechanical‑electronic gadget
that runs programs designed by humans.
Along this continuum we can imagine humans with a majority of
robotic parts (artificial limbs, heart, eyes) and robots with
human‑like responses and reactions (creativity, ability to
learn). We would also
have robots that look like humans and humans that increasingly look
the y‑axis we can also develop a rights dimension.
At one end of this continuum would be a condition of total
"human rights" and at the other end, a state of
this continuum, we can visualize robots representing themselves and
robots represented by guardians.
Finally we can develop a moving‑stationary dimension as
well as various economic dimensions (household robots to military
robots). By juxtaposing
these dimensions (flesh‑mechanical;
rights‑‑rightless; moving‑stationary) and
visualizing them across time, we can develop various alternative
scenarios of the future of robots
these times line and dimensions, we can imagine the day when a bold
lawyer rewrites history and argues that robot should be treated
legally as a person. On
this day an entirely new future will emerge.
change is growing at an exponential rate.
Genetic engineering, lasers, space settlement,
telecommunications, computers, and robotics are bringing economic,
social and political changes like no other period of human history.
Unfortunately it is difficult for individuals and
institutions to keep pace with such change.
In order to minimize the stress causes by the expansing role
of robotics it is vital that the judiciary and legislators make
proactive decisions and plan for the eventual development of robotic
rights before the issue reaches a crisis point.
feel the issue of robotic rights and responsibilities to be an
the "question of rights" in this new dimension offers the
unique opportunity to reconceptualize our very notion of
"rights" and what the will mean in a global society.
This issue generates a larger question of mans relationship
with his world. As a
quantum change in our perspective of ourselves it signals a new
understanding and appreciation for the concerns of everything.
This is the underlying theme of this paper.
Haught, professor of theology at Georgetown, has identified a higher
spiritual dimension to the growing planetary interconnectedness that
the computer age is establishing.
He likens "the spread of satellites and computer
networks over the Earth as comparable to the complexification of the
primate nervous system as the condition for the birth of thought.
Now the complexification is taking on a planetary demention.
So the whole planet is being prepared by technology for the
eventual birth of a far higher form of consciousness...we are
participating in a magnificent process of bringing about a
physiological base for a higher and dramatically novel form of
consciousness."62 It is with such a global
transformation in mind that we should consider the rights of robots
as well as rights for all things.
robots will be in our houses as playmates for children, servants for
adults. They may become
sex surrogates. They
will be in the courts as judges.
They will be in hospitals as caretakers.
They will proform dangerous military and space tasks for us.
They will clean pollution, save us from numerous hazards.
The child who loses her robot because of malfunction will
when she grown up always remember her robot.
She may, at the insistence of her parents, relegate robots as
persons of the world of fairies, goblins and ghosts, the unreal and
the impossible. Or she
may decide that her robot like her family, friends and pets is part
of her, is part of life itself.
must remember that the impossible is not always the fantastic and
the fantastic not always the impossible.
McNally and Sohail Inayatullah are planners/futurists with the
Hawaii Judiciary. Both
are active with the World Futures Studies Federation.
Mr. McNally, in addition, provides strategic planning advice
to the YMCA. Mr.
Inayatullah provides strategic planning advice to Mid‑Pacific
Institute and various self‑reliance, spiritual associations.
authors would like to thank the Judiciary for research time to
complete this article. Research
by Sally Taylor and an earlier paper on the history of Robots by
Anne Witebsky was also helpful.
views expressed in this paper are not necessarily shared by the
Judiciary or any other organizations and assocations the authors are
See Gregory Sugimoto, Comprehensive Planning in the
Hawaii Judiciary (Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaii Judiciary, 1981); also
see Sohail Inayatullah, "Futures and the
Organization," Futures (June 1984), pp. 302‑315.
See the Hawaii Judiciary Newsletter, Nu Hou
Kanawai: Justice Horizons for the most recent reviews and
comments on the legal impacts of emerging technologies and social
Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan," Social and Political
Philosophy, Eds. John Somerville and Ronald Santoni (Garden
City, New York: Double Day & Co., Inc., 1963). p. 143.
Jamake Highwater, The Primal Mind (New York: Harpers
and Row Ins., 1981), 180.
P.R. Sarkar, Neo‑Humanism: The Liberation of
Intellect (Ananda Nagar, Ananda Press, 1984).
See also Sohail Inayatullah, "P.R.
Sarkar as Futurist," Renaissance Universal Journal
(forthcoming 1987) as well as 1985 and 1986 issues of Renaissance
Universal Journal for articles by P.R. Sarkar.
See Michael Towsey, Eternal Dance of Macrocosm
(Copenhagan, Denmark: PROUT Publications, 1986).
Clarence Morris, The Justification of the Law
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), p. 192.
Morris, The Justification of the Law, p. 194.
Ibid, p. 196.
Ibid, p. 198.
Ibid, p. 199.
Christopher D. Stone, Should Trees Have Standing: Towards
Legal Rights for Natural Objects (Los Altos, California: William
A. Kaufman, 1974).
Joseph Coates, "The Future of Law: A Diagnosis and
Prescription," Judgeing The Future, Eds. James Dator and
Clem Bezold (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Social Science
Research Institute, 1981), p.54.
Francis Allan, "1984: The End of Intimacy," Human
Rights (Winter 1984), p.55.
Joel Shirkin, "The Expert System: The Practical Face of
Review (Nov/Dec 1983), p.78.
See also Margarate Boden, "Impacts of
Artifical Intelligence," Futures (Feb. 1984).
Clark Holloway, "Strategic Management and
Artificial Intelligence," Long Range Planning (Oct. 1983).
Richard Bold, "Conversing With Computers,"
Technology Review (Feb./March 1985).
"Artificial Intelligence is Here," Business Week
Stanley Wellborn, "Race to Create A Living
Computer," U.S. News and World Report
(Dec. 31,1984/Jan. 7, 1986), p.50.
Shirkin, "The Expert System: The Practical Face of
Sam N. Lehman Wilzeg, "Frankenstein Unbound: Towards a
Legal Definition of Artifical Intelligence," Futures
(December 1981), pp. 442‑457.
Ibid, p. 443.
J. von Neumann, The Computer and the Brain (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1974) quoted in Ibid.
W.G. Walter, The Living Brain (New York: W.W. Norton
and Co, 1953) quoted in Ibid.
N. Wiener, God and Golem, Inc (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1966) quoted in Ibid.
N. Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (Garden City,
NY: Dobleday, 1954) quoted in Ibid.
J. von Neumann, Theory of Self‑Reproducing Automata
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1966) quoted in Ibid.
M. Arbib, Brains, Machines and Mathematics (New York:
McGraw‑Hill, 1964) quoted in Ibid.
D. Rorvik, As Man Becomes Machine (New York: Pocket
Books, 1971) quoted in Ibid.
J. G. Kemeny, Man and the Computer (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1972) quoted in Ibid.
Kemeny, Man and the Computer quoted in Ibid.
J. Wesizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason (San
Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co. 1976) quoted in Ibid.
Lehman‑Wilzeg, "Frankenstein Unbound," p.
Marion Long, "Turncoat of the Computer Revolution,"
New Age Journal (Dec. 1985), p.48.
Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?, p. 11.
Ibid, p. 11.
Ibid, p. 13.
Ibid, p. 15.
Neal Milner, "The Emergence of Rights, " Proposal
to the National Science Foundation (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of
Hawaii Department of Political Science, 1980).
Ibid, p. 4.
Don Mitchell, "Metal Lunch," Whole Earth Review
(Jan. 1985), p.4.
also Jerry, Mander, "Six Grave Doubts About
Computers," Whole Earth Review (Jan. 1985).
Edith Weiner and Arnold Brown, "Issues For The
1990's," The Futurist
(March/April 1986), p. 10.
Robert Anderson, "Piracy and New Technologies: The
Protection of Computer Software Against Piracy," (London:
American Bar Association Conference Paper 7/17/85), p. 176.
See also the following conference papers;
Robert Bigelow, "Computers and Privacy in the United
States," David Calcutt, "The Entertainment Industry,
Piracy and Remedies," Colin
Tapper, "From Privacy to Data Protection," Arthur Levine,
"Piracy and the New Technologies."
Stewart Brand, "Keep Designing," Whole earth Review
Mike Higgins, "The Future of Personal Robots," The
Futurist (May/June 1986), p. 46.
See also James Albus, "Robots and the
Economy" The Futurist (December 1984).
"Death by Robot," Science Digest (Aug.
1985), p. 67.
See Issac Azimov, The Naked Sun (London:
Granada Publishing, 1975).
Second Law of Robotics: A robot must obay the orders given it by
Human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First
Law; The Third Law of Robotics: A robot must protect its own
existance as long as such protection does not conflict with either
the First or Second Law.
Ramond August, "Turning The Computer Into A
Criminal," Barrister (Fall 1983), p. 53.
See also Don Parker, Fighting Computer Crime (New
York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1983.
Ted Singer, "Controlling Computer Crime," Security
Management (January 1984).
Ibid, p. 54
See Sohail Inayatullah, "Challenges Ahead for
State Judiciaries," Futurics (Vol 9, No. 2, 1985), pp.
16‑18; see also James Dator and Clement Bezold, Judging
the Future (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Social
Science Research Institute, 1981); and, Orville Richardson, "A
Glimpse of Justice to Come," Trial (June
1983‑‑November 1983, a six part series on law in the
David Bazelon, "Risk and Responsibility," Science
Technology and National Policy,
Eds. Thomas Keuhn and Alan Porter (New York: Cornell University
Press, 1981), p. 358.
Issac Azimov, "The Next 20 Years For Law and
Lawyers," American Bar Association Journal
(Jan. 1985), p. 59. See
also Anthony D'Amato, "Can Should Computers Replace
Judges," Georgia Law Review (Sept. 1977).
According to D'Amato such a computer would work in this
fashion. The computer
program is essentially that of a multiple regression analysis.
The dependent variables are plaintiff wins (+1) and defendent
wins (‑1); the facts of the case are independent variables.
The computer recieves all the facts and performs a complex
multivariate analysis of them.
The facts will be regressed to fit other clusters of facts
previously programmed into the computer.
The fit will never be exact: the only question the computer
then decides is whether the new facts as programmed fit more closly
or cluster around the dependent variables "plaintiff wins"
or "defendent wins."
Gary Grossman and Lewis Soloman, " Computers and Legal
Reasoning," American Bar Association Journal (Jan.
1983), p. 66. See
also Larry Polansky, "Technophobia: Confronting the New
Technology and Shaping Solutions to Court Problems," State
Management Journal (1984).
See Guy M. Bennet and Signa Treat, "Selected
Bibliographical Material on Computer‑Assisted Legal
Analysis," Jurimetrics (Spring 1984), pp. 283‑290.
This excellent bibiliography includes a wide range of entries
ranging from articles on Searchable Data Bases to articles on
computer decisionmaking. Particularly
useful is L. T. McCarty, "Reflection on TAXMAN: An Experiment
in Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasonry," 90 Harvard Law
Review, 837‑93 (March 1977).
Howard Bedlin and Paul Nejelski, "Unsettling Issues
About Settling Civil Litigation," Judicature
(June‑July 1984), p. 10.
Lehman‑Wilzeg, "Frankenstein Unbound," p. 447
S. M. Waddams, Product Liability (Toronto: Carswell,
1974) quoted in Ibid.
Lehman‑Wilzeg, "Frankenstein Unbound," pp.
Ibid, p. 450.
Ibid, p. 451.
S.J. Stoljar, The Law of Agency (London: Sweet and
Maxwell, 1961) quoted in Ibid.
W.A. Seavey, Handbook of the Law of Agency (St. Paul:
West Publishing Co, 1974) quoted in Ibid.
Seavey Handbook of the Law of Agency quoted in Ibid.
Seavey Handbook of the Law of Agency quoted in Ibid.
Brad Lemley, "Other Voices Other Futures," P.C.
Magazine (Jan. 8, 1985), p. 135.