Danger Will Robinson, Danger!

Robots could demand legal rights

Robots could one day demand the same citizen’s rights as humans, according to a study by the British government.

If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even “robo-healthcare”, the report says.

At least this is British taxdollars at work, for once. I think someone in the government there has read just a little too much Isaac Asimov.

As to the meat of the study; I think it’s being a little misguided. What are “Human rights” as applied to a robot, anyway?

The thrust of the article is correct, I believe. Protecting robot rights is the moral and ethical thing to do, if and when strong AI is developed. But the mistake is in assuming that these rights will be identical to the rights afforded to biological human beings.

Take robot healthcare, mentioned in the article.

Human healthcare is expensive in large part because the human body is so complex and poorly understood, even in the modern era. Providing healthcare requires spending a decade educating doctors just so they can learn to address a narrow specialty of human biology.

Intelligent robots, however we’re imagining them, would be engineered, not born. We’d have a much more perfect understanding of their workings, reducing the fuzziness of diagnosis and treatment. Further, there’s no reason to imagine that robots wouldn’t be able to perform many of the maintenance tasks on themselves (or each other) – learning what needs to be done would be a simple matter of downloading the information. Further, assuming that a robot “brain” is similar to computers, we need not worry much about their “bodies” at all. Upgrades and backups would reduce much of the imperative for healthcare as applied to humans (the biggest expenses with us, after all, are all associated with aging).

The main problem with this thesis though is that social services would be the least of the economic issues that AI powered robots create.

To illustrate, let’s take it to the extreme example. Imagine a company that makes widgets. The raw materials for the widgets are mined by robots. They’re transported to the factory by robots, where they’re manufactured by robots. The finished widgets are then shipped to the store by robots, where they’re placed on the shelf by robots. The company has robots dedicated to maintaining the other robots. The company even has robots that handle the sales and marketing. In short – in a world where humanoid robots possess human level intelligence, the value of labor falls to zero. There’s no job that can’t conceivably be done (better) by a robot. The very foundation for our economy falls apart.

We’ll probably adapt, mind you – but getting back to the main point, worrying about social services seems shortsighted; we’d have to figure out how to make this robot economy work first.


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