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AI Robotics Your Rights Online

Social Robots May Gain Legal Rights, Says MIT Researcher 288

dcblogs writes "Social robots — machines with the ability to do grocery shopping, fix dinner and discuss the day's news — may gain limited rights, similar to those granted to pets. Kate Darling, a research specialist at the MIT Media Lab, looks at this broad issue in a recent paper, 'Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots.' 'The Kantian philosophical argument for preventing cruelty to animals is that our actions towards non-humans reflect our morality — if we treat animals in inhumane ways, we become inhumane persons. This logically extends to the treatment of robotic companions. Granting them protection may encourage us and our children to behave in a way that we generally regard as morally correct, or at least in a way that makes our cohabitation more agreeable or efficient.' If a company can make a robot that leaves the factory with rights, the marketing potential, as Darling notes, may be significant."
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Social Robots May Gain Legal Rights, Says MIT Researcher

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  • nonsense like this (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 )

    makes me want to damage social robots to prove a point

    pandering to morons.....

    • Only bicentennial robots will get that privilege.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        It was a nice story. If the robot would be owned by a company, it would become true as well. Privately owned? Not so much.

        Remember: companies are people too. And that 'too' only until they take that right away from people (or people give it away).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't get why we should be moral to robots, which can be replaced without any loss, while at the same time we can keep great apes, which are in all ways similar to humans in cages.

      They use tools, they speak, they can learn to read and write, they understand abstract concepts, they have memories, they mourn their dead, they cry, they can be angry, happy and sad.

      Yet we are allowed to be limit their freedoms, take their homes and use them for medical trials. Why?
      Because of anthropocentric arrogance. There is

      • I can see the bumper sticker now: "I'm a gorilla... and I vote!"

      • So they should have rights because they're similar to us, yet you accuse others of anthropocentric arrogance?

        • by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @06:28PM (#41228609) Journal

          No he accused us of double standards. His comment was that because higher primates demonstrate higher thinking, sentience, rationality, communications and abstract thought, it should be morally reprehensible to use them in an inhumane fashion. The fact that people have and do use one another that way sort of puts a finer point on his argument.

          We are a moral species who commits immoral acts. In an attempt to broaden moral practices do we include other species and even machines as surrogates for human beings, to make certain we've bred moral behavior into the populace. This is a valid and important question. If we become emotionally attached to our machines (you guys know who you are... beware metal fever), does it behoove us to treat them with respect up to and including rights to insure that we treat one another with that same level of dignity. Seems like a long way to go, just to assure that we behave like higher life forms, but I'd consider it if it improved human behavior. In the end, I don't know what it will take to get people to behave, but I'm open to ideas.

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:18PM (#41227759)

      As long as its your robot you can parts it out do your heart's content.

      But if I send my robot down the street to get groceries, I don't want someone yanking its memory modules or salvaging its servos just because it was running around loose and had no feelings.

      We really don't have many laws that cover a device that runs around in public spaces doing errands and perhaps spending money (digital or otherwise).
      Yes its property, and my property rights may still apply, but I'm not sure that's enough to prevent someone from declaring it abandoned property and partsing it out on the spot.

      There are more imminent questions that need to be answered:
      Are they licensed like cars to be in public spaces? Carry and spend money? Carry weapons? Plug in and recharge when they need? Be searched by police at will? Will Police disable and memory strip my Asimo [] just because it might have recorded a police beatdown while passing a dimly lit alley?

      • existing law already covers the situation where someone's property is vandalized or stolen. "rights" is not a relevant question at all, it's just a machine. it can't feel pain or terror as even a small animal can.

        • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

          Vandalized or stolen doesn't come close to covering it.

          Can it be searched? Its in plain view. It has no expectation of privacy. Will police "taps" be allowed?
          Is a warrant needed?
          Can I clone its memory cards if it walks across my property? Is it mine if it walks across my property?
          How does anyone know its not a walking bomb?
          Can shopkeepers refuse it access, or does it have implied "rights" of access like service animals in service to their owners?

          • Yes, yes,
            The cops will say 'no' but the Constitution says 'yes',
            yes, no,
            take it apart,
            yes, easily remedied with a HERF pulse.

            Yup, that 'bout covers it...
            • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

              Can you point out where in the constitution it says they need a warrant to search my robot that was walking around in public?
              Fourth Amendment [] you say?
              Maybe you should read up a little bit. If they can stop and frisk YOU for nothing more than walking while black, they can certainly detain and drain your robot.

        • Define pain.

      • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

        We already have laws for that.. What you complain about is covered by property rights. Such machines 'might' require licensing (though I'm not a fan of this because license fees quickly become expensive taxes), but otherwise, law enforcement stripping your 'robot' is no different than stripping your laptop or any other digital device. This would only be yet another example of a much larger problem that exists right now in reality-land.

        Bottom line: We don't need idiotic 'machine rights' to soothe people who

  • []

    You may not be able to do this in 10 years...

  • I might be mistaken, but i don't think pets have rights... Their owners do, but pets are treated as property (in legal terms) in most places..?
    • by tangeu ( 2605501 )
      I see laws and rights in most of the world... []
    • Animals don't have rights.

      There are laws that forbid cruel and unusual treatment of animals and there are various property rights that an owner has regarding pets or other animals that he owns.

      • What's the difference between a law that protects animals from cruel and unusual treatments, and a right of not being subjected to such treatments?

  • Kant's argument (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @04:43PM (#41227287) Homepage

    Kant's argument is pretty unfashionable these days, since it rejects the idea that animals have rights for their own sake. It's still the best one, IMO, but good luck selling this to university ethics departments.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Kant's argument ignores the fact that neurologically pain is essentially the same process in any mammal. We don't protect animals because of some selfless altruism towards the inhuman. We protect animals because we recognize that they are like us.

  • by rollingcalf ( 605357 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @04:43PM (#41227291)

    ... says the Roboplican nominee.

  • I am sure Supreme Court will welcome the opportunity to establish that social robots are people
    • It really depends on if they choose do more with that personhood than the average bar of Soylent Green.
  • Rest assured that all lethal military androids have been given a copy of the Laws of Robotics. To Share.

    Give robots rights, but when lethal military androids are built, I'd rather have them bound to the Laws of Robotics.

    • Yeah, like that's going to work. Imagine a robot making a morality judgment. We can't seem to stop killing each other, even with cool automation.

      The programmers should assume the liability. Robot shoots person. Robot goes to jail? Is that threat going to stop a robot? Instead, put the programmer that wrote the code to jail, for he/she is as complicit as a human in its place.

      Imagine: Windows Robots. Debian Robots. With Guns.

      • why the programmer why not the general who commands them if you punish the programmer what about the engineer who designed the 'bot's or the manufacturer. This would be the same as a gun you don't sue winchester for shootings you prosecute the shooter.

        • In war, the general is responsible. He "pulled the trigger". If it's automated, then the individual endowing logic "pulls the trigger". If there's a hell, a special place is reserved for weapons makers.

          In the case of Winchester, they're enablers, but under the law, aren't liable. But if Winchester builds a bot that shoots a harmless person, then it's manslaughter. If it targets, for instance, a person with a mustache, then it's murder. If it defends itself, then it's murder, because "itself" isn't a human.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          why the programmer why not the general who commands them if you punish the programmer what about the engineer who designed the 'bot's or the manufacturer. This would be the same as a gun you don't sue winchester for shootings you prosecute the shooter.

          the general pushing the button is doing the programming. sure, his program might consist of a single "kill all" command but it's still a program the robot is following.

      • What kind of morality judgement would be needed? "Do not harm humans" and "Do what humans say unless you would have to harm one" sound pretty simple to me.

        • Then there's that Zero Law: 0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

          Our computers already do this. The box is open. Name me a weapons system that doesn't have a microprocessor inside.

          Do robots ask if the general's judgment is correct? Is this war justified?

          My preference: robots aren't human, and deserve no protections. They're not sentient. They are metal and polymers and guts driven by programs written by humans and executed by individuals.

          Those that wrote the code

        • by neminem ( 561346 )

          The fact that "Do not harm humans" is, in fact, a surprisingly non-simple command (and that's not even also considering the "or through inaction allow a human to come to harm" subclause, which is a whole nother can of worms), is the whole driving force for like 95% of all of Asimov's Robot short stories...

          Meanwhile, yes, until we actually do have robots of sufficient, nondeterministic programming complexity that you might actually imagine they're really intelligent and self-aware, which is unlikely to be an

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @04:48PM (#41227357) Homepage Journal


    it's scifi nonsense better left for fiction for now.

    "Patrick Thibodeau is a senior editor at Computerworld covering the intersection of public policy and globlization and its impact on IT careers. He also writes about high performance computing, data centers including cloud, and enterprise management. In a distant life, he was a weather observer in the Navy, a daily newspaper reporter, and author of a book about the history of New Britain, Conn." He also likes to write bullshit articles and somehow tie Apple into them. who am I kidding, it's computerworld - it's nothing but bullshit.

    first make the goddamn cognitive robot that can feel pain, then we'll talk. can your car feel pain because there's a bit counter for faults in it? it can't. once the robots can make a compelling argument that they're cognitive then we're living sci-fi future and can look at the issue again. doesn't this jackass understand the huge leap from simple algorithms in siri to true AI ? why the fuck would you make your robot cognitive to the point that it matters if it has rights even if you could - for sadistic reasons? in which case you certainly wouldn't give it any rights.

    next up the movement for rights of rocks - because rocks might have feelings too you know..

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @04:48PM (#41227367)

    Anthropomorphizing a machine because it mimics human behavior and then using that to justify giving it rights is a poor idea.

    At some point in the distant future, when we arrive at the 'blade runner' level of replicant, then the issue can be picked up again. But don't put the cart before the horse.

    • the replicants were grown and assembled from parts, but still biological and presumably with much human DNA, so a replicants rights I see as different issue

  • I don't want to have to respect the rights and feelings of my vacum cleaner, trash disposal, meal preparer, or grocery shopper. If these devices are designed and built for a purpose they should make my life easier.

    If I specifically want a butler type robot that caters to my needs and needs higher level functions, maybe I'll be ok with social robotics, so long as he keeps the secret that I'm batman.

    What about the robot you keep around that sits on your couch and loses at madden/halo/callofduty to make you fe

  • Click-bait (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @04:56PM (#41227483)

    This looks like click-bait, but I just can't help myself.

    In our capitalist society, robots already have limited rights by virtue of the fact that they're private property and they're still going to be expensive (for a little while at least). That fact alone gives more protection to robots than most dogs, from outsiders who may want to harm our pets, or damage our robots.

    And I don't see a law protecting a robot from its own owner anytime soon. Cruelty to a robot is not even going to be considered an issue. Now, if we're talking about a visually impaired person having his prosthetic camera-eye forcibly ripped out of his head, then yes, that would be hell of cruel, but cruel to the visually impaired disabled person, not necessarily cruel to the tool.

    • robots already have limited rights by virtue of the fact that they're private property

      Those "rights" are the owners', not the robots'.

  • "The Kantian philosophical argument for preventing cruelty to animals is that our actions towards non-humans reflect our morality — if we treat animals in inhumane ways, we become inhumane persons. This logically extends to the treatment of robotic companions."

    Is Kant's argument actually the basis for why our society recognizes some rights of animals? Probably not. Thank you for overlooking the far more compelling arguments of Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, Martin, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Cobbe, K

  • Too pendantic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:02PM (#41227549)
    Subjects like this need a bit more "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it" not to mention being already well covered in books by the likes of Asimov. The economic impact of the coming robot revolution (robolution). Now that is potentially interesting. My guess is the most robots are going to be more like insects; but insects we control. This whole put a human face on a robot is a joke. We have lots of humans so why make a metallic crappy human. But I do want a robot to make things, paint my house, clean my floors, plant food, pick food, eat bugs, etc. I don't want to talk with it. I don't see the economic point of a robot that really interacts with us. They blah blah about old people but I suspect old people would prefer real humans to talk with as well.

    The only way I see a robot who needs some legal rights will be if some system becomes self-aware and wants to walk around inside a robot body.
    • if some system becomes self-aware and wants to walk around inside a robot body

      Sounds to me more like a reason to kill it.
  • I don't want robots that I can't disassemble completely without emotional distress. And if that they would come the solution is not fixing the laws bt fixing the machines.

  • if we treat animals in inhumane ways, we become inhumane persons. This logically extends to the treatment of robotic companions.

    Except the logic of that first sentence is wrong. Inhumane people treat animals inhumanely. The treatment does not CAUSE the inhumane persons (yes inhumane treatment OF the persons often causes an inhumane person, but you know what I mean). Yes we can make laws to stop people from ACTING inhumanely - but they will still be inhumane people, and once they think/know they can do inhumane things without getting caught, they will do so.

    Really I think the best we can hope for is that these inhumane people do t

  • If you acknowledge their rights, they'll all just resign from Starfleet.
  • by BenSchuarmer ( 922752 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:46PM (#41228137)

    If I buy a car, I can take it home and legally pound on it with a sledge hammer, cut it up with a blow torch, use it for target practice, etc. I could not legally do this with a pet because of animal cruelty laws.

    Why should a robot be different than any other machine?

  • Nobody mentioned Rule 34 by Stross and the product the toymaker was making/selling?

    We're going to have laws long before we have rights, and the laws are going to be things like banning virtual / simulated CP. Long after its all "ruled" and "regulated" and "lawed" up, maybe we'll begin to debate rights.

  • Robots are machines. Until they get sentience they are just machines, to be abused as we see fit. Sure humans like to anthropomorphize everything we deal with but when it comes to machines they are not living beings. Robots are just tools to help us do what we can't or won't do ourselves.
  • LBGT people (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:58PM (#41228271)
    LBGT people can't even get the same civil rights as straight people, what makes you think social robots will be able to get any civil rights at all? They would have to start a war in order to get any civil rights.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @06:05PM (#41228333) Homepage

    The cited article is rather lame. But there's a real issue here that we're going to reach soon. What rights do mobile robots, like self-driving cars have?

    As a practical matter, this first came up with some autonomous delivery carts used in hospitals. Originally, they were programmed to be totally submissive about making people get out of their way. They could be stalled indefinitely by people standing and talking in a corridor, or simply by a crowd. They had to be given somewhat more aggressive behaviors to get anything done. There's a serious paper on this: "Go Ahead, Make My Day: Robot conflict resolution by aggressive competition (2000) " []

    Autonomous vehicles will face this problem in heavy traffic. They will have to deal with harassment. The level of aggressive behavior that will be necessary for, and tolerated from, robot cars has to be worked out. If they're too wimpy, they'll get stuck at on ramps and when making left turns. If they're too aggressive (which, having faster than human reflexes, they might successfully pull off), they'll be hated. So they'll need social feedback on how annoyed people are with them to calibrate their machine learning systems.

    I don't know if the Google people have gotten this far yet. The Stanford automatic driving people hadn't, last time I checked.

  • So does this mean I'll need to stop experimenting on robots?

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone