Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Can machines be persons?

What would the real effect of legal personhood for machines be?

Earlier this year, over 150 experts in AI, robotics, ethics, and supporting disciplines signed an open letter denouncing the European Parliament’s proposal to make intelligent machines persons.

According to Canadian futurist George Dvorsky, the Parliament’s purpose is to hold the machines liable for damages, as a corporation might be: “The EU is understandably worried that the actions of these machines will be increasingly incomprehensible to the puny humans who manufacture and use them.”

AI experts acknowledge that no such robots currently exist. But many argue, as does Seth Baum of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, “Now is the time to debate these issues, not to make final decisions.” AI philosopher Michael LaBossiere likewise wants to “try to avoid our usual approach of blundering into a mess and then staggering through it.” Maybe, but the wish is often father to the thought, and a grand protocol may tempt many with an interest in the matter to see in AI what isn’t there because they need it to be.

For some, it’s a moral issue: sociologist and futurist James Hughes considers existing rights language to be “often human-racist” and “unethical.” Dvorsky, who describes himself as “Canada’s leading agenda-driven futurist/activist,” is a big fan of personhood in principle. As founder and chair of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), he wants personhood for whales, dolphins, elephants, and other highly sapient creatures. He doesn’t want a noble agenda upset by questionably victimized robots. More.

Denyse O’Leary, “AI Apprehension” at Salvo

See also: Robogeddon! Pause.

Can machines be persons?