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Scissors Over Comb? Robots, the AI and Citizenship

Published on : May 2019

Should Robots be Granted Citizenship?

It’s 2019 and with the world progressively stepping towards technological advancement, active presence of machines is no surprise. Within considerable amount of time, artificial intelligence has taken over the world with its ideas and promises. Human beings are doing everything possible to ease out their work and life, and development of robots is one such example. This article talks about the initiation of robotics, the acknowledgment of their existence, the curses and boons associated, and deeply analyses whether robots should be granted citizenship or not. With Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to a robot, being the talk of the hour, it is impeditive that the constitutionality and other aspects surrounding it be discussed. The article initiates by providing the reader with a brief discussion upon what constitutes a robot; the requirements for acquiring a citizenship; followed by a brief discussion on worldwide view of the same, making a comparative analysis. It further helps the reader understand the advantages and disadvantages of granting a citizenship to a robot and finally concludes by providing a critical opinion of the same.

Robot and Citizenship – An understanding.

A robot is a machine, programmable by a computer capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. They can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. They may be autonomous or semi-autonomous; humanoid, medical operating robots, nano robots, etc. Since they are programmed by computers and display a lifelike appearance or movement, they may convey by a sense of their own thought, or a sense of intelligence installed within.

In a nation governed by rule of law, citizenship has a clearly defined meaning with rights and responsibilities relatively straightforwardly derivable from written legal documents using modern analytical logic. Clearly, the constitution of every country confers certain rights, privileges and liberties to its citizen(s). Amongst several such rights, is the right to ‘live’. The view expressed by Field, J. in Munn v. Illinois in which it was held that the term 'life' (as appearing in the 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution) means something more than 'mere animal existence’. It has also been stated that “Life is not mere living but living in health. Health is not the absence of illness but a glowing vitality the feeling of wholeness with a capacity for continuous intellectual and spiritual growth. Physical, social, spiritual and psychological well-being are intrinsically interwoven into the fabric of life. According to Indian philosophy, for instance ‘that which is born must die’. Death is the only certain thing in life." (Source: Dr M. Indira and Dr Alka Dhal under the caption "Meaning of Life, Suffering and Death" as read in the International Conference on Health Policy, Ethics and Human Values held at New Delhi in 1986). 

Clearly, robots are neither humans, nor animals, they are non-living objects. Did the framers of constitution envisage existence of robots in future? Speaking of Constitution and fundamental rights, we as humans, enjoy several rights such as right to education, right to marry, right to undertake business, etc. to name a few. How can a citizen being a robot enjoy these rights? If the principle of ‘that which is born must die’ relates to right to live, how can the same relate to a robot who could potentially live in perpetuity?
If a robot were to undertake certain business, what would be the validity of a non-disclosure agreement signed by such robot? How would one enforce the court award against the robot? Will robots undertaking business be subject to taxation? The first death by robot was recorded. What really happened thereafter? These basic questions do not have any answer, as yet. The trend is more towards brain inspired artificial intelligence being seen as one of the most exciting field in robotics.    
Furthermore, in Saudi Arabia, citizenship having a real meaning, is yet different from the sort of meaning that is derivable from various historical Islamic writings (the Quran, the hadiths, etc.) based on deep contextual interpretation by modern and historical Islamic figures.  

Furthermore, in Saudi Arabia, citizenship having a real meaning, is yet different from the sort of meaning that is derivable from various historical Islamic writings (the Quran, the hadiths, etc.) based on deep contextual interpretation by modern and historical Islamic figures.  

The hurdles in between.

From the abovementioned discussion, it can be said that for a robot to acquire citizenship, it must have an identity that can be considered as a citizen. Humans constitute all the ingredients of being a citizens, whereby they differentiate among themselves by way of their identity, which is derived by their face, voice, brainwaves, fingerprints, etc. which is entirely theirs. A robot is not born, it is created by way of science and technology. Even though a robot can derive its identity in similar ways, by their barcode number or unique skin mark, but this can not conclude their identity being solely restricted to one robot, since it would be an identity of a hardware and not a robot. And a hardware can at anytime be shifted from one robot to another. Henceforth creating a havoc and confusion while defining or describing the identity of the said robot.

Artificial Intelligence is being considered by the judicial systems. It is being claimed that it is now possible using AI to make decisions on matters involving prosecution, term of prison sentence through evidence based analysis of risks. In other words, AI aims at minimizing factors such as emotional stability. If artificial intelligence can produce immaculate and flawless decisions with speed, one question that comes to mind is what happens if robots with AI are criminally prosecuted for crimes committed against the State? No, the author did not even for a moment think of any Hollywood or Bollywood movie! If such robots are able to complete tasks with such impeccable precision, is it not possible for robots to easily defend themselves against each and any claim? Bearing in mind that a robot is a citizen and further bearing in mind that a greater degree of blind trust is placed by us humans even on Google’s search engine, we are after all dealing with a corporate entity. Robots as explained earlier, are citizens that are non-living objects.

Technical advances sometimes outstrip the development of legal systems and often force basic principles to be reexamined. Is there a need to reconsider and develop our legal systems for robots and AI before it’s too late?

Having regard with the abovementioned observation, no jurisdiction in the world has ever granted citizenship to a robot, except for Saudi Arabia. But this is not the only reason that restricts robots acquiring citizenship in the rest of the world. Those are legal issues, political issues and/or human rights issues.

Legal Perspective

Another point of objection raised is regarding the identification and justification of the legal rights and liabilities that a robot would acquire and intake. A citizen, under every jurisdiction, generally, acquires certain legal rights and liabilities – constitutional, private, or property rights. For example, a right to vote, payment of taxes, criminal acts, or a right to sign an agreement, marry and so on. In the case of a robot it shall be very difficult to underline the rights and liabilities it incurs, since it has a created form and not born one. The questions that shall arise on deciding the legal liability or right of the robot, for example, for the purpose of this article, assuming that robot is a citizen robot able to vote, who shall make the decision of whom to vote – robot, or the manufacturer.
Similarly, if a criminal or a corporate liability is alleged on robot(s), for instance for breach on contract, resulting in fraud and cheating, invites such liabilities on robot. Here who shall be considered liable –  the robot or the manufacturer.
Again, assuming, for the sake of this article, that robot is held liable for a criminal act and is punishable under the same, who shall decide the punishment or what kinds of punishments be given. Further, on being given the punishment, it doesn’t assure the fact that the said crime shall not happen again, as it is the hardware created by the mind of manufacturer, who can create another bot with the same hardware. If the manufacturer is also held liable for the offences committed by the bot, the manufacturer can objectify the same by lifting the veil and arguing upon the bot being a totally different citizen. Question may also arise regarding the priority among the human in danger with that of a bot in danger.
Currently, the artificial intelligence (AI) community is still debating what principles should govern the design and use of AI, let alone what the laws should be. Therefore, it is highly arguable as to how the liabilities of a bot can be justified and what shall be the extent or the scope of the same, considering the current status of the legislature governing the Artificial Intelligence laws. The most recent list proposes 23 principles known as the Asilomar AI Principles. But a lot of work is yet to undertaken regarding the same and cannot be done by way of simple announcement.

Humans or Robot(s)? – A societal concern.

Considering another issue, how would it be defined as to what the moral and social rights of a bot are. For instance, speaking about relationships and reproduction, as a citizen, will the humanoid emotional robot, be allowed to “marry” or “breed” if Robot chooses to? If more robots join as citizens of the world, perhaps they too could claim their rights to self-replicate into other robots. These robots would also become citizens. With no resource constraints on how many children each of these robots could have, they could easily exceed the human population of a nation.

This leads to another concern, and a particularly major one, which is whether such advancement and growing technological innovations would lead to a situation which might lead to the robot super-suppressing the presence of humans, thus affecting the human rights and questions the need of humans in this world.  Students from North Dacota State University have taken steps to create a robot that self-replicates using 3D printing technologies. If allowed, shall there be any harm to the humans – of course.

Robots in trend. But Why?

It’s very simple!

Such advancement ease ups the working of industries and factories, whereby already the machinery is replacing human beings, causing an increase in unemployment of humans. On being asked about this, one robot stated rather very impressively, that they intend to team up with the world, rather than taking it over. But how can one assure this statement, if they are given equal status with that of humans, but not similar accountability.

The fact that it eases up the work and fundamentally helps reducing the crime rate, is not exhaustive. It also helps worldwide advancement and connection, and brings up the goodwill of the concerned association. It also helps in promotion, marketing and can be updated time to time which again helps in easing up the work of humans at an entirely different level.

But these reasons may not be conclusively accepted towards granting citizenship rights and creating an entirely new league of species for the competition against human beings. Yes, there lies requirement of legalising and protecting the artificial intelligence and the creator of the same, but citizenship can not be the answer to the same. There also lies other alternatives that can be undertaken, such as legalising the robots, or enacting new legislations for their accountability and understanding.

Author’s perspective and Conclusion

Per author's personal opinion, citizenship is a right that is of a very high stature and should be granted to those who can access such rights and dispose off such duties with a reasonable care thereupon. A robot is expected to perform activities equivalent to human beings, but one can not be certain that there lies complete accuracy and efficiency without any default. And for the reasons stated above, it can further be opined that such grant would lead to robots overtaking the human population and may result in possible hurdles to the human race, which at this stage may not be welcomed. Scissors over comb?