Robot.jpg

Robots Are People Too?

They say hard cases make bad law, so lets not talk about a toaster.

You have a robot, an android, similar in appearance to a human, close enough that you couldn’t tell at a distance. This robot has intelligence at or slightly above that of a human, as well as sentience.

Is that robot a person? Would that robot be entitled to human rights? Should it be protected under the law as a person? Would it be okay (with full knowledge of the entomology of the word robot) to treat that sentient robot as…

  1. Roberto
    Fred Cole: You have a robot, an android, similar in appearance to a human, close enough that you couldn’t tell at a distance.  This robot has intelligence at or slightly above that of a human and sentience.

    Is that robot a person? 

    My gut instinct is that once we begin building robots with human level intelligence or higher the decision will no longer be up to us.

  2. Gary The Ex-Donk

    I’ll need to go back and rewatch the re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica (from the pilot to “The Plan“) before I attempt this one.

  3. KC Mulville

    Why do you ask?

  4. CandE

    Robot =/= Human therefore it is soulless property and should be treated as such.  Even if it dreams of electric sheep.

    -E

  5. Eric Hines

    If the robot is sentient, it’s a person, but not human, as SC notes.  However, from this point, I part company with most of the commenters.  We are creations of God, in His image (which amounts to far more than just looking like Him), and He gave us free will, a conscience, and the intelligence to do various things, including create sentient…persons.  In His omnipotence, He knew we would, too, and gave no injunction against using our intelligence (“Don’t eat the apple” was an injunction against looking ahead and getting answers we hadn’t developed on our own).

    Thus, the creation of a person by a creation of God is, in the end, also a creation of God.  The indirect route doesn’t reduce that.  Such a creation has a soul (not imparted by us…), and it can receive salvation.

    Eric Hines

  6. Misthiocracy
    Roberto

    … human level intelligence …

    Now I really feel sorry for those poor robots.  ;-)

  7. Valiuth

    For those who think a Robot can receive salvation, may I ask, from what? 

    I don’t really know how we can prove we have souls other than by extrapolating from our sentience. Ergo to have a sentience is to have a soul. But, we do not consider humans with very limited brain activity or capacity as not having a full soul. I am though weary of such debates. 

    Humans project their emotions on to object only to watch them bounce back to us to give us fulfillment  Think how humans treat pets? These animals are mildly like us, and because of their proximity we ascribe to them near human levels of personality. I think a robot that could mimic humans very well (even objectively lacking free will) would be treated as human by most humans. The closer things remind us of ourselves the easier it will be to project on to them complex traits.

  8. Fred Cole
    KC Mulville: Why do you ask? · 1 hour ago

    I’m been thinking a lot about robots and if they’re people or not.

    I’m curious where the line is and when a robot becomes a person and not just property.

    And I asked because I was looking for perspectives from our diverse crowd.

  9. Lord Humungus
    KC Mulville: Why do you ask? · 1 hour ago

    Really, Fred. What have you done to your toaster?

  10. TheRoyalFamily

    A person is a person no matter how small…or tall, or mechanical, or having laser guns instead of hands.

    As to whether they have souls…I’ll get back to you when that becomes a more pressing matter. We are nowhere near there yet, so I’m not going to worry about it.

    Could you love a robot, if it could love you back?

    (Only if you were a robosexual.)

  11. Sisyphus

    The Puppeteers in Larry Niven’s Known Space series have outlawed AI on the grounds that they did not want to invent their successor species. If only the folks on Battlestar Galactica‘s Caprica had had such sense, that whole, awful remake series could have been avoided.

  12. Percival

    Why the insistence that the robot have a human form?  If your toaster were self-aware, would it be a person?

    And what would the purpose be for designing a self-aware toaster?  Do you really want a toaster that can experience ennui?  Do you crave a discussion as to why the English muffin should not be burnt?

  13. KC Mulville
    Fred Cole

    KC Mulville: Why do you ask? · 1 hour ago

    I’m been thinking a lot about robots and if they’re people or not.

    I’m curious where the line is and when a robot becomes a person and not just property.

    And I asked because I was looking for perspectives from our diverse crowd. · 1 hour ago

    OK, just so long as you’re not being held prisoner by Schwarzenegger and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or anything. 

    But seriously …

    I hesitate. To suggest that there’s a line between human beings and robots where one becomes a person … is to define “personhood.” And because that same question is at play in several other debates (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) I’m debating whether I really want to plunge into your question.

  14. Fred Cole
    KC Mulville

    And because thatsame question is at play in several other debates (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) I’m debating whether I really want to plunge into your question. · 32 minutes ago

    Well, two things:

    1. What could it hurt?

    2. If you can define a consistent principle that can applied to those other debates (and I was conscious of them when I created this thread), that could only make you stronger.

  15. katievs

    Okay, I think I understand now a little better where the rub is.

    KC, and others: I agree that personhood is not reducible to functions (like reasoning or consciousness).  It is, rather, an ontological category.   So, a person is a person even when he or she is in the womb, or severely handicapped, or completely incapacitated.  There is no such thing as a human being who is not a person.  All human beings, at every stage of life, are persons.  

    But not all persons are human beings.

    I say that “person” is nothing different than human. All of the definitions end up being nothing more than well-established and highly-agreed descriptions of human beings.

    The entire western tradition acknowledges non-human persons, including God, angels and fictional characters (like Bambi and R2D2).  We may one day discover non human persons living on other planets.

    The fact that all these can be recognized as persons, though  not human beings, goes to show that the concept is meaningful and distinct from the concept of human beings.

  16. katievs
    Fred Cole:  This robot has intelligence at or slightly above that of a human and sentience.

    Is that robot a person?  

    No.  A robot has no subjectivity, no interiority, no self-possession, no self.

    It is neither free nor responsible.  It has no existential plenitude, as every person does.

    Would that robot be entitled to human rights?  

    No.  Rights have everything to do with the natural dignity and self-possession of persons.  Also, rights are not something we “offer”; they are endowed by God.  Persons have no moral duties toward robots, as we do toward other persons.

    Would it have a soul?  Is it a creation of God?  Is it one of God’s children? Could it accept God and receive salvation?

    No, no, and no.

  17. katievs
    On one level, the answer is simple: why can’t robots have human rights? Because they’re not human! Only human beings can have human rights.

    Only human beings can have human rights, true.  

    But those rights we call human rights inhere in the natural dignity human beings have as persons—beings endowed with a personal soul, with reason and free will.

    Robots are not persons because being machines without interiority or self-possession, without any moral agency, they have no soul, they have no self, no “I”. 

  18. katievs
    KC Mulville

    The theological concept of persons as it applies to the trinity, just to anticipate an objection, is not an exact definition of the divine nature, because no one claims that we have an exact and perfect understanding of the divine nature. All of our theological concepts are approximations of understanding the divinity, and the notion of person is simply the closest concept we have available.

    We cannot fully comprehend God’s beauty, but we can say absolutely and definitely that He is Beauty.  We cannot comprehend His justice, but we can say absolutely that He is Just.

    We cannot define beauty and justice with perfection (since our comprehension and our language are limited).  Nevertheless, the concepts are real and definite and content-rich.

    Similarly, though (being a basic reality) its adequate definition will elude us, we can understand deeply and truly what it means to be a person.  We can make definite claims about what a person is and isn’t.  And we can hold, absolutely, that God is a Person (or rather 3 Persons), though not a human being.  He is a Someone, not a something.

  19. Fred Cole
    katievs

    Fred Cole:  This robot has intelligence at or slightly above that of a human and sentience.

    Is that robot a person?  

    No.  A robot has no subjectivity, no interiority, no self-possession, no self.

    It is neither free nor responsible.  It has no existential plenitude, as every person does.

    Would that robot be entitled to human rights?  

    No.  Rights have everything to do with the natural dignity and self-possession of persons.  Also, rights are not something we “offer”; they are endowed by God.  Persons have no moral duties toward robots, as we do toward other persons.

    Would it have a soul?  Is it a creation of God?  Is it one of God’s children? Could it accept God and receive salvation?

    No, no, and no. · 11 minutes ago

    Sorry, Katie, your answers were kind of ambiguous.

    Also, you didn’t answer the last question.

  20. KC Mulville

    I reject the notion of personhood.

    Legally, a “person” is fiction, comprised of one or more human beings (never anything other than a human; the difference is in quantity not quality) who operate as one,  in a way that corporations or partnerships don’t cover.

    Colloquially, on the other hand, the word person means nothing different than human. You can’t have a robot-person, because a robot is by definition not human. 

    Well, someone might say, we could choose to treat a robot with the same rights as a human if we so chose. Well, I suppose we could, in the same way we could endow plants and furniture with human rights if we so chose. Once you stipulate that we can endow anything and everything with “human rights,” you’ve fled normal usage anyway, so what difference would it make?

    The problem is that robots mimic human intelligence, and artificial intelligence can do everything (in fact, better) than human intelligence … but that merely reveals that the quality you want to treat with respect is intelligence, not humanity. 

    Which leaves the question: do you respect intelligence, or humanity? Do you only respect humans because they’re intelligent?

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