In 2017, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot by the name of Sophia. While the incident triggered thousands of jokes about the Middle Eastern country, given that women still do not enjoy the same rights as men, it also raised important questions as to the implications of providing citizenship to robots.
One of the very first things that comes to mind is the question of individuality. When a human being is granted the right to be a citizen, it is because they are seen as capable of making independent decisions. But can robots make independent decisions? As far as we know, robots simply follow a set of protocols. Even many of the advanced AIs peddled in the market are simply dependent on following a set of rules and then building upon these.
We have yet to create a robot that can truly think for itself, one that has not been coded with a set of protocols that determines its every action. So, if a robot cannot think for itself but requires a set of codes to function, then it cannot be considered to be an individual. The robot can only be considered to be an object that mimics human intelligence.
Plus, if there are two or more Sophia’s, the issue of individuality becomes even more difficult. If they have the same looks, same voice, etc., how can any of them be considered to have an individual identity? Humans are considered individual because each one of us is physically unique. And psychologically, we have our own characters, desires, ambitions, fears, and motivations. In contrast, the many Sophias will have a single set of rules that drive their behavior. How can anything without a unique physical structure or psychology be considered an individual?
If in any way a robot is accepted as a citizen, the legal issues that come with it will be even more complex. For instance, every citizen enjoys voting rights. Will the robot have voting rights? If they are given voting privileges, there arises a risk that a bunch of robots can end up swaying the elections. Those who seek power can give citizenship to thousands of robots in the hope that their programming will make them vote for a specific person.
A citizen also has the right to marry. Will a human be allowed to “marry” a robot that has citizenship? If so, people from other countries can marry robots to get citizenship. Even if the robot has a feminine or masculine name, will they be considered as truly having a gender?
Being citizens, robots will also come under the purview of criminal laws. If a robot were to kill a human being, will it be punished? Punishment is a concept that is largely applicable to human beings. Putting a robot in jail for 30 years does nothing to it as compared to sending a human being to prison.
But first, the court will have to prove that the robot intended to kill the person. This is a tricky situation since it will be nearly impossible to prove that a robot has any intention to kill, as they are just machines that fulfill a set of functions and do not have any personal desire. And even if it is proven that the robot had a desire to kill, the fact that such an intention is the result of its programming will make it impossible to actually hold the machine guilty of its actions.