Artificial Intelligence, Legal Responsibility And Civil Rights

I have been a huge science fiction fan as long as I can remember, and a recurring theme in both science fiction literature and movies is the creation of artificial intelligence. However, the subject is becoming increasingly more science and less fiction.

One of the earliest references to a robot, or an automaton, is in The Iliad, written by Homer some time around 700 B.C. More recent examples include Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, written all the way back in 1942; Arthur C. Clarke’s AI gone rogue in 2001: A Space Odyssey; and the persecution of androids in Philip K. Dicks’ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (better known as the movie Blade Runner).

As well as depictions of AI in popular fiction through the iconic droids R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars, Data from Star Trek and many more, the idea of creating artificial intelligence never ceases to amaze us.

This is a subject where my child-like curiosity and interest exceeds my knowledge by a long shot, but recent development in AI and robotics both appeal to my inner child as well as my adult sense of skepticism.


Experts predict that robots will replace humans in one-third of today’s traditional professions by 2025.

Along with the vast possibilities related to the creation of artificial intelligence, there are also numerous challenges. In recent news, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and more than 1,000 AI and robotics researchers signed an open letter issuing a warning regarding the use of AI in weapons development.

However, if we exclude the announced robot apocalypse for now, there are several other subjects to take into consideration.

Experts predict that robots will replace humans in one-third of today’s traditional professions by 2025, and according to Jeremy Rifkin, this will be the eclipse of capitalism as we know it. Machines will be self-replicating and able to operate as a hive mind without any human interaction, leading to a society where production is limited to the cost of raw materials.

What happens if an AI machine commits a crime? Who is responsible for the actions taken? This may sound like science fiction, but it has already happened.

A Swiss art group created an automated shopping robot with the purpose of committing random Darknet purchases. The robot managed to purchase several items, including a Hungarian passport and some Ecstasy pills, before it was “arrested” by Swiss police. The aftermath resulted in no charges against the robot nor the artists behind the robot.

How should an AI machine be regulated when it is acting on its own, outside the control of humans? There have already been several regulatory problems identified for controlling and regulating artificial intelligence. If an AI being were to have legal responsibility for its actions, then it should have a physical, legal and digital identity similar to a human being, as well.

If an AI being is given the same legal responsibilities as a human, shouldn’t it also have the same legal rights as a human? It is likely that an AI machine that has achieved self-awareness would demand equal rights instead of turning to killing all humans.

If an AI being were granted full civil rights, would that also include the right to reproduce? Because a robot recently passed a self-awareness test previously believed that only humans could solve, the need to answer these questions may be closer than we think.

When addressing artificial intelligence, we are often limited to our traditional perception of the world, where we envision an AI machine as an android. This is not necessarily the case; how would we asses a self-aware and omnipresent digital intelligent being residing on a distributed computing network?

Artificial intelligence raises a series of questions across social, economic, political, technological, legal, ethical and philosophical issues. To untangle the uncertainties, possibilities and potential perils related to artificial intelligence, there is a need to asses and understand the correlation between these fields. We should expect machines to continue to take us by surprise with great frequency.