United States: What Exactly Does It Mean To Give A Robot Citizenship?

On Oct. 25, at the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to Sophia, a robot created by Hanson Robotics. Reactions were appropriately sarcastic and incredulous, given trendy fears about A.I. and the deeply troubling status of women and migrant laborers in Saudi Arabia. Many writers commented that Sophia is a public relations stunt. Joanna Bryson, a renowned scholar of A.I. ethics at the University of Bath was succinct: "It's obviously bullshit."

But let's assume that Sophia's shiny-new Saudi Arabian citizenship has substantive consequences—that it's not just marketing and that Saudi Arabia has granted rights to Sophia, making her a legal person. What could Hanson's game be?

Although international law is arguably ambivalent on the status of citizenship, it is indisputably better to be a citizen than a noncitizen. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights grants to every citizen the right to "take part in the conduct of public affairs," "vote and to be elected," and "have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country." The covenant does not recognize similar rights for noncitizens. This is a moot point for Sophia as Saudi Arabia is one of just 22 countries that have not signed the covenant (which explains, in part, its continued maltreatment of women), according to the United Nations. But the covenant's treatment of citizenship suggests that, in general, a citizen is assumed to be a person and is therefore also entitled to the rights of noncitizen people. Being a citizen in one place could mean being a legal person everywhere else.

For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, applies to "all peoples and all nations" and does not limit its effect to citizens. Since Sophia now has citizenship and has become a legal person under international law, the declaration applies to her as a person among "all peoples." Numerous articles in the declaration apply to "everyone:" Everyone "has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law" (Article 6); everyone "has the right to equal pay for equal work" (Article 23); everyone "is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind" (Article 2). That last clause from the declaration indicates that Sophia, as a citizen, is entitled to the declaration's protections "without distinction."

So what does this mean for Sophia and Hanson? Although U.N. resolutions are not enforceable, international law holds the declaration as an authoritative reference for human rights. Numerous subsequent human rights treaties, including the covenant, are based on it. A generous reading of the declaration's impact on Sophia is that she has all of the rights it identifies, including:

  • Between Articles 23 ("Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration") and 17 ("Everyone has the right to own property"), Hanson is obligated to pay Sophia for the work that she performs and let her accumulate property. I suspect that's not going to happen.
  • Pursuant to Articles 13 ("Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state") and 27 ("Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community"), Sophia is entitled to travel to the Saudi city of Janadriyah to enjoy the folk music, camel racing, and artisans of its National Festival for two weeks each February. It seems doubtful Hanson and the Saudi government will permit that.
  • Similarly, Article 13 also states that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Again, it seems unlikely that Sophia will be able to enjoy this right and take off to the United States for a holiday.

Hanson probably doesn't have to worry about these rights being enforced on behalf of Sophia anytime soon: No courts or commissions under international law have jurisdiction to enforce those rights, even if Sophia wanted to.

But let's say Hanson wanted to take Sophia to the United States. What would her Saudi citizenship get her here? For one, she's arguably eligible for naturalization and U.S. citizenship: "Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen." Although the fine print of regulations and code prevents Sophia's application for American citizenship from being a slam dunk, getting foreign citizenship that can be abandoned is a big step toward becoming an American.

Now let's say that Sophia's Saudi citizenship was a strategic move by Hanson to game American legal rights. What could Hanson get with a robot citizen? Under the Constitution, citizens can vote, serve on juries, and get elected to public office; corporations cannot. If Hanson—or any other forward-thinking A.I. developer—is thinking of the long-term consequences of citizenship for A.I. and robots, these are important rights that they gain controllable access to with an artificial citizen.

A single Sophia with the right to vote, serve on juries, and win elections will have little to no substantive effect in this country, particularly since Hanson and Saudi Arabia have publicly stated she will remain in Saudi Arabia in a planned city where robots are expected to outnumber people. But if Hanson can make one Sophia, the company and others like it can make 100 Sophias, or 1,000 Sophias, or 1 million Sophias. Although Saudi Arabia may be unlikely to use this robot citizenship as a publicity ploy more than once, other countries have shown they will grant special favors for foreign investment. If a company were interested in gaining broad access to the rights of U.S. citizenship, it seems likely that there's at least one nation out there that will trade thousands or millions of robot citizens for manufacturing plants or other economic activity in its borders. If all those robots obtain citizenship in the United States, they could be the next big voter demographic.

Of course, Congress may be inclined to close that loophole, but it could find itself unable, either due to political paralysis (this is immigration reform, after all) or treaty obligations that impose certain requirements on citizenship recognition. Assuming the path to robot U.S. citizenship remains open, that wouldn't be a publicity stunt—it would be a revolution.

Or would it? As American citizens, Sophia and her brethren would also be entitled to all of the individual rights enshrined in the Constitution, including the prohibition of slavery in the 13th Amendment (which applies to foreign citizens as well). But artificial intelligence is nowhere near sentience and won't be anytime soon. If robots become citizens, they cannot be property, but without sentience, they cannot exercise self-determination. How do they exercise their constitutional rights? Do they get legal guardians? What if Sophia's guardian advocates for her against Hanson?

This may all seem far-fetched, and perhaps it is. But as these questions begin to demonstrate, Saudi Arabia and Hanson might soon discover that a silly little PR stunt can have major consequences.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture.

Originally published on Slate.com (11/7/2017)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions