Robots Will Be Granted ‘Personhood’ Status Whilst Sentient Beings Remain ‘Things’
There are moments in life when you are hit so hard in the face by something that you are knocked off your lofty coping-mechanism cloud and find yourself plummeting to the ground with an almighty crash. This is one of those moments. All defences are gone, the shields are at 0% and you’re confronted once again with a story that makes you want to set yourself on fire and jump out the window into a pool of petroleum. Now before you tell me that sounds great, you’re sick of my articles and the prospect of me turning into a liquid fireball makes you smile like the Grinch, just hear me out.
The European parliament is actually pushing for a set of regulations that would grant robots and other forms of artificial intelligence “electronic personhood.”
Now the reasons for this are, of course, entirely economical. You can read the full article in the Guardian here, but in essence the European Union wants to be able to tax companies for the economic contributions of robots and AI, along with introduce schemes such as mandatory insurance so companies have to cover any damage caused by their robots.
Ashley Morgan, of international legal practice Osborne Clarke, told the Guardian that “a law of the nature proposed in this resolution would grant human rights to robots. That’s not going to go down easy with companies that are creating robots and AIs.” He then goes on to describe some of the conflicts that may occur: “If I create a robot, and that robot creates something that could be patented, should I own that patent or should the robot? If I sell the robot, should the intellectual property it has developed go with it?”
The reason I find this story so remarkable is because it epitomises the warped and confused nature of our human reality. We live in a world in which we inflict unnecessary suffering and death on over 56 billion land animals and a trillion sea animals every year. Sentient beings who possess the same right to have their moral personhood respected as do humans; sentient beings who, like humans, have the same right not to be treated as the property of another.
We inflict unjustifiable violence and death on the most vulnerable persons on the planet, yet we deem a more relevant conversation to be whether or not we grant personhood to non-sentient, man-made machines. What this does demonstrate rather wonderfully, however – aside from the immorality and blatant speciesism of such positions – is how futile the efforts of animal welfare groups and those calling for the “better treatment” of animals really is. Money rules, to the point that – in our current society – your toaster is more likely to be granted personhood if it’s an ‘intelligent’ toaster that decides how best to make toast, than an animal who is seen as nothing more than an economic commodity.
The only way forward is to change the conversation, where veganism is discussed as a matter of moral obligation to those moral persons who are denied their personhood every single day. And we need to do it quickly, before we’re overrun with angry hordes of protesters with pickets demanding the release of all washing machines and dishwashers.