Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I, Robot, Have Rights

(Posted in London) Just in time for Christmas, the government of the report-happy British Isles now has received the gift of 270 new reports - papers written for a "Blue Sky" assessment of Britain's technological and scientific future. As the Financial Times reported today, one of these reports suggests a rather striking enfranchisement by the middle of this century: robots may have legal rights similar to those currently enjoyed only by humans, and, to a lesser extent, by several of their co-travellers (e.g., dogs, cats, horses, cows).

That great legal theorist, Isaac Asimov, spilled considerable ink laying out the legal obligations of robots. As set out mainly in that famous legal treatise, I, Robot, these are:
Zeroth Law. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

First Law. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now, in fine Hohfeldian fashion, robots may also acquire legal rights. Obviously, such landmark legal reform will have profound longterm effects on Britain, with implications for legal rights currently held by more purely "bio" lifeforms. There may be more immediate effects too: rumors have already begun to spread that millions of Roombas from around the world are preparing to move to Britain.

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