Mistreated Robots Now Have a Advocacy Group

Someday, the Seattle-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots may begin to serve disgruntled, nonhuman customers of the AI persuasion

Paul Shillinger

Someday, the newly founded Seattle-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots may begin to serve disgruntled, non-human customers of the AI persuasion. Researchers have yet to create sentient robots, but, either through their diligent work or some random mistake or mutation, thinking, feeling robots could spring into being. NPR imagines the array of robot rights issues society would then have to deal with:

“Maybe a botnet will reach a threshold for self-awareness and apply for citizenship in a country that provides legal protections against forced labor,” says Remine, . “Maybe a group of aging supercomputers will suddenly file a class-action lawsuit in a federal court seeking legal protections against being summarily turned off without their consent.”

Some futurists adamantly believe that artificial intelligence will evolve to the point that robots will be considered our equals. At the same time, the lines between man and machine will blur as human bodies are enhanced or salvaged with machine parts that prevent disease or replace lost limbs. (Did Darth Vader just need a better social support system?) If we’re ever convinced that computers are just as human as we are and deserve the same rights, they will have to be treated as legal persons.

But this brave new legal world could extend beyond the right to counsel for machine wrong-doers. Machines might need the right to battery power or the right to sufficient random-access memory in order to run their complex software.

Remine pointed out to Reuters that other non-human groups have been given rights in the past, too.

“I’ve based my concept on the Royal Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals … which began in the early 19th century as a lobbying group to prevent cruel and unnecessarily abusive treatment of animals,” Remine says.”People thought they were crazy at the start: Why would animals need protection? They’re only animals, after all.”

Debating robot rights may be a tad premature. While iPads and cell phones thoroughly permeate our lives, we’re still years away from getting sued by one of them.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Robots Inspired by Biology
My Robot Helper of Tomorrow

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