Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


robot law, robot rights, United Nations, Turing test, sentience


This comment predicts that robot rights under the law are likely to become a reality in the next fifty years, possibly in multiple countries, as governments pass laws granting rights to robots, including civil rights like voting. This comment calls on the United Nations (‘‘UN”) to be pro-active in guiding the emergence of robot rights by convening a working group on robot rights to better guide member states through what will be a time of momentous change.

Why are robots likely to soon gain rights in some UN member states? There have been huge advances in AI that can pass the ‘‘Turing test,” where robots can mimic human behavior. Multiple companion robots are already on the market. These robots are specifically designed to have relationships with humans, and many humans will come to believe these robots are conscious, moral agents, even if experts disagree. Last summer, an engineer at the tech company Google was
put on leave for claiming that one of the company’s projects, an artificial intelligence (‘‘AI”) chat bot called LaMDA, had achieved the sentience of a human child. It appears that the world has reached a tipping point on the question of robot rights.

Robot rights are likely to emerge soon in multiple countries because, unlike animals, many robots will closely resemble humans in that they can communicate, mirror human emotions, and, most importantly, participate in society and government. Furthermore, the question of robot consciousness, a topic of enormous debate between scientists and philosophers, may never be definitively settled. We cannot prove that humans are conscious, let alone robots. Into this void of definitive proof, based on their intuitive experiences with human-like robots, many humans will accept the view that robots are conscious and, given that robots can participate in society and government, many humans will conclude that robots deserve rights