AI Experts Warn That Humanity Must Prepare Now for When Robots Demand Equal Rights

The day when robots will require equal rights is fast approaching.


Image via HBO


We may be decades away from being totally wiped out by a sentient AI system like Skynet, but some experts think that “The Reckoning” is closer than we think. According to The Daily Mail, the European Parliament is taking the rise of the machines pretty seriously. In a 17-2 vote last month, it decided to begin developing a set of regulations aimed at controlling the rise of artificial intelligence.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of these guidelines is the planned implementation of “electronic personhood,” which would ensure a set of rights for the most advanced kinds of AI. Think about it: If robots eventually become as lifelike as the machines in Westworld, a set of basic rights would be essential in preventing the kind of deranged robot abuse depicted in the first season of HBO’s hit show.

In fact, if robots do ever become that advanced, the social and cultural implications will be massive. “If a 'robot' copy was actually an embodied version of a biological consciousness that had all the same experiences, feelings, hopes, dreams, frailties and fears as their originator, on what basis would we deny that copy rights if we referred to existing human rights regimes?” asks The Daily Mail’s Christopher Markou. “This sounds like absurdity, but it is nonetheless an absurdity that may soon be reality, and that means we cannot afford to laugh it off or overlook it.”

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In an interview with Big think, Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen said that humans might have to accept the fact that robots will one day merit having the same right that we do, and that maybe that's not such a bad thing. "I think that scares a lot of people but if you look at the course of human history, and how willy nilly we were in declaring some people non-persons, slaves from this country, it seems to me a little humility and a little openness to this idea might not be the worst thing in the world," he said. 

Elon Musk has a decidedly different take on the future of AI. While speaking at MIT in 2014, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said that AI represent our "biggest existential threat." "We need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence," he explained. "Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out."

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