Robert A. Freitas Jr., an American lawyer and university professor with a passion for future, in 1979 wrote, Xenology and SETI, a volume devoted to aliens and juridical problems the world would be facing at their arrival.
It doesn’t seem alien arrived but new aliens are already among us. In 1985, A. Freitas himself assumed it in a short paper in “The Legal Rights of Robots” scarcely known for his students.
Today, after 32 years, that short text can be fully understood on the basis of robotic developments which will have repercussions on regulations.
It would be easy to end the discussion maintaining that robots are machines and therefore they have no legal status or responsibility. Supposedly, they are objects owned by someone therefore their owner, inventor or programmer should respond of their actions.
This statement isn’t true anymore. As robots progress to the point of making decision and thinking, they are no more machines turning thus into strange “beings”.
A. Freitas predicted all this when no one was even barely thinking about it. Even though at that time robot were only computers, Freitas asked himself what happened when those machines would be able to store information and act independently. In his view, rights for robots should have been added in order to reach a “Robot Liberation”. Transferring a memory from a robot to another should be forbidden in order to not alter their “memories” and thus, the reliability of its testimony. Their instrumentalisation from humans willing to commit crimes should have been prevented.
Twenty years before him, Hilary Putnam of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talked about rights for robots, maybe for the first time. At the end of a philosophical discourse, Putnam stated that the discrimination based on “the softness or hardness of the body parts of a synthetic organism” is as silly and discriminatory as the different treatment of human beings on the basis of the color of their skin.
These thoughts became more serious and concrete as robots pass from performing operative functions to behave with altruism, affection and tenderness. It is not science fiction: it is what is already happening or what countries such Japan, South Korea, United States and Chine are working on as they consider robots men new life allies.
All this makes current the matter of robot “status”.
If they are not machines like all the others and at the same time not even human beings, it is necessary to qualify them, giving them a legal status to which refer a number of specific rules.
At the moment, while understanding it, Europe points out the necessity of a juridical qualification of the status of robots but it does not go as far as developing an effective regulation.
Last 16th February, the European Parliament approved with 398 votes in favor, 123 against and 85 abstentions the report of Mary Delavux on Robot Rights which we already discussed (link robot).
The Parliament rejected the proposal related to a tax on robots or a replacement income to limit the soon current problem of the loss of jobs because robots enter the market. Bill Gates also perceived this problem and suggested the introduction in the U.S. of a tax on robots in anticipation of what could be a huge social problem.
The European Commission has now to decide if and which legalization really introduce.
At the moment, the main point is robot’s responsibility in relation to the possible damages to things and people. But many aspects has to be considered, not only security but also ethically.
In the last few days, we have had news of the repeated defeat inflicted by the computer Libratus to the best poker players. It was two years that it could not succeed in it. This is because during the matches the algorithm permitting the computer to learn from the behavior of the others was increased.
There is a great fear of a supremacy of robots upon humans. This is the real challenge that we will all face from a regulatory, technological and cultural point of view.