Recently, an intelligent and human looking robot named Sophia made global headlines when Saudi Arabia granted the humanoid robot Saudi citizenship. According to the headlines, Saudi Arabia became the first country to grant a robot citizenship. The news caused quite a stir - the female looking robot was not wearing a hijab, she was not accompanied by a male guardian and the robot was awarded citizenship, which made it look like a humanoid intelligent robot was given more rights than women and migrants living in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is known for its restrictive policy concerning women's rights and Saudi women have only recenly been given the right to drive a car.

Publicity stunt

Perhaps it is a bit premature to give an AI humanoid robot like Sophia citizenship rights. Was it a publicity stunt? Yes. Robot Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. She appeared on stage at the Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday 25 October. Although robot Sophia was said to be "basically alive," in fact she is not a very sophisticated AI robot; being neither sentient nor self aware.

People that were able to meet, greet and interview Sophia, concluded that her answers to open-ended questions seemed to be programmed responses. Humanoid AI robot Sophia was designed to grow smarter over time and is able to answer questions and recognise voices and faces. She has been created as a companion for elderly persons at nursing homes, but for example she also could be used as an assistant at large events.

Increasingly robots and AI are becoming part of every day life. It won't be long until intelligent robots like Sophia or more advanced  humanoid robots will serve as companions and or assistants in many households. The use of these sophisticated AI robots have not been properly regulated yet but fortunately the world is becoming more and more aware of the importance of creating ethical guidelines and legislation concerning the manufacturing and use of sophisticated AI robots.

In recent international law literature especially one type of robots is often being discussed : an autonomous weapons system which is often used as an instrument for targeted killing. In this regard, UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns stated in a report (2013) that military lethal autonomous robotics can not fully comply with the laws of war. These robots are autonomous but this has nothing to do with the notions of free will, human judgement, and moral autonomy. Special Rapporteur Mr. Heyns thinks that truly sentient AI robots or strong AIs are "not currently in  the picture". But there are many experts who think that in a few decades significant technological developments could lead to truly intelligent AI (humanoid) robots.

The need for a legal framework

For decades literature and sci-fi movies have warned humankind for the dangers posed by robots and AI. Many sci-fi books, movies and TV series have portrayed, in several disturbing dystopic scenarios, that things can seriously go wrong when the use of robot technology and AI is not guided properly and consciously within a moral and legal framework. In 1950, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced the three laws of robotics in his work: "I, Robot". These laws basically serve to ensure that an intelligent robot should never be used for purposes which are destructive for humankind.

On the invitation of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Dutch Rathenau Institute conducted research concerning challenges arising from the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality. The research focused on issues relating to the right to respect private life, human dignity, ownership, safety and liability, freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination as well as access to justice and the right to a fair trial. The institute issued a publication in which it proposed two new human rights: the right to not be measured, analyzed or coached, and the right to meaningful human contact.

In January 2017, the European Parliament made a recommendation to the EU Commission concerning a proposal that sophisticated robots, i.e. sentient AI robots should receive a new legal status, the 'electric person'  in order to ensure their rights and responsibilities. Rapporteur Mady Delvaux MEP, stated: “A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”.

In the abovementioned proposal which is concerned with the civil law rules on robotics, several recommendations are made, such as:

*  A call on the European Commission to propose a legal definition of "smart autonomous robots and their subcategories with a system of registration of the most advanced of them".
* "A guiding ethical framework for the design, production and use of robots".
* "Creation of a European Agency for robotics and artificial intelligence".
*  Asks the European Commission to look further into issues regarding intellectual property rights and the flow of personal data (privacy and data protection related matters).
* A call for the " international harmonisation of technical standards", and of European legislation concerning robots and AI.
* The need for uniform criteria which can be used to identify in which areas experiments with robots are permitted.
* Civil liability related issues, such as the proposal of a new mandatory insurance scheme which concerns the coverage of damage caused by company robots.

Smart AI robots and human rights

Even though the robot Sophia was recently made a citizen of Saudi Arabia, it is perhaps a bit premature to talk about granting rights to smart robots. Real sentient, smart AI robots do not exist yet, but many already fear the idea of giving rights to robots.

The question whether a sentient AI robot deserves rights or should have rights is a heavily debated topic and raises many questions. Human rights have already been extended to animals and corporations. Granting rights to intelligent AI robots could lead to many unforeseen consequences.

If in the future sophisticated, sentient and self-aware AI robots would be invented and would be granted human rights, this would put them on equal footing with humans. As bearers of rights, these AI robots would have the right to vote, the right to self-determination, the right to have possessions, the right to conclude legal contracts and have the right not to be anyone's property.  Is this desirable? Is it wise to give an artificial being rights? Would this also mean that a robot has to pay taxes and claim the right to self-determination? Intelligent Robots that are bearers of rights could reject to being used as a service robot.

There are experts who really believe that technological developments concerning robotics will eventually result in the need for new legal and ethical guidelines related to the use of smart robots. Scholar Dr. Kate Darling from MIT Media Lab for example is an advocate of second-order rights for robots. This type of rights serves as protection to prevent the mistreatment of sophisticated AI robots. Second-order rights could be compared to animal protection laws and guidelines which are created in order to prevent animal abuse and inhumane treatment. The question is whether inanimate beings such as intelligent robots could be compared with animals when it concerns their legal status. While some of these problems with intelligent robots have been extensively portrayed in sci-fi literature and movies, this still seems unrealistic, far-fetched and even preposterous to many.

Creating a legal status of the electric person as proposed by the EU is a bold initiative and in the eyes of many perhaps also a bit precocious. However, it is wise and necessary to further investigate the dangers, advantages and (legal) consequences of the development and use of intelligent AI robots and to map out the necessary conditions for an adequate legal framework for robotics and AI.

As far as human rights for robots are concerned, besides the question whether it is desirable and reasonable to give smart AI robots rights, one should not forget that granting “rights” to robots could also have many unforeseen and unwanted consequences. More in depth legal research in this field is therefore also necessary.

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