Sounds like a science fiction theme. Recall the Star Trek The Next Generation episode about whether Data was a person. I saw this article at CBC News about robots paying taxes. Not directly, but the idea was that if a company makes money based on work a robot does, rather than a human, then they should pay tax on that money. The idea was that if they pay a human a salary which is taxed, that tax should be paid by someone or something as long as that work is done.
The summary lede for that article led to this one about how automation is taking over jobs. We knew about this in general, but it’s the high-paying professional-type jobs that are also disappearing.
But even more interesting was this opinion piece about whether whether robots should be persons. Apparently this has nothing to do with sentience. There are three rivers that are considered persons and of course there is a drive to make whales and chimpanzees persons. It seems to me that a river could be protected by law without calling it a person, although much of the impetuous was religious and/or tradition. It seems to me that we could grant or protect rights without declaring something a “person”.
I looked up the definition of “person”. I’m sure there are much more complex definitions, but in short:
Legal person refers to a non-human entity that is treated as a person for limited legal purposes–corporations, for example. Legal persons can sue and be sued, own property, and enter into contracts. In most countries, legal persons cannot vote, marry, or hold public office.
The ability to sue or enter into contracts implies the understanding of those acts. However, as we’ve seen in the news, other people (human persons) can sue or enter into contracts for them, whether or not there’s any understanding. I understand that a corporation can be considered a legal person, although I don’t see the need for it. A corporation is an entity controlled by human persons. Why not just include that in the legal definition of a corporation.
It seems to me that what we’re really asking is when do we start treating robots as sentient, intelligent beings as opposed to simple machines or appliances. Does your toaster have any rights? At what point is a robot, or any AI for that matter, considered sentient? Often the definition is self awareness. Maybe it’s when they ask the question “Why am I here?”
A legal opinion on this subject has been received from Neil, who really does know his stuff. It’s quite a detailed opinion so take your time to read what he says below-