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Robot Granted Citizenship; Could Create Serious Legal Problems Elsewhere

By JOHN F. BANZHAF. Originally published at ValueWalk.

Binding International Treaties Often Guarantee Rights to “Citizens” of Other Countries


ARAB NEWS, the “Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily,” has just reported that “Saudi Arabia Becomes First Country to Grant Citizen Ship to a Robot.”

While most reports saw it as a mere gimmick, and some criticized the Saudi government for apparently granting a robot more rights than Kafala workers or even women, there seems to be no appreciation for the many legal problems this could create, argues public interest law professor John Banzhaf.


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He explains that many treaties, which legally bind all signatory countries, grant a variety of legal rights to “citizens of either country,” “citizens” of other countries, etc.

So other countries which have either bilateral [two party] or multilateral [many parties] treaties with Saudi Arabia could be required by international law to honor such rights for the robot to whom citizenship has been granted named “Sophia.”

But recognition under international law that a specific robot is a citizen entitled to legal rights under a treaty implies that at least other similar robots would have the same legal rights even if they are not citizens, argues Banzhaf.

As a recent example, he cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision that one specific corporation named “Citizens United” had certain First Amendment rights in effect extended those same rights to other non-profit and business corporations, as well as to labor unions.

Indeed, if only “persons” can be granted citizenship, then treaties protecting “persons” in other countries might have to be construed to protecting even robots, argues Banzhaf., citing both legal and illegal aliens in the U.S. who are nevertheless protected as “persons.”

U.S. law has long recognized that corporations, trusts, and other similar inanimate and even intangible objects can have legal rights, and can even be regarded as “persons” under certain circumstances.

Strong arguments have been made the certain animals have rights, that fetuses have rights (at least in the sense that endangering or harming a fetus may constitute “child abuse”), and even that certain inanimate objects like trees may have legal rights which can be asserted in order to protect the environment.

Indeed, even in situations in which the entity entitled to legal protection is in no position to assert these rights, courts have sometimes permitted others to assert and advocate for their legal rights; for example, sanctioning the appointment of guardians for unborn children.

Moreover, the rights of such entities may sometimes be asserted even if those in a position to assert those legal rights refuse to do so. For example, Banzhaf’s law students put together a novel law suit in which the rights of the state of Maryland to collect money Spiro T. Agnew received in bribes while he was the governor of Maryland were successfully asserted, even against the wishes of the state itself.

Stranger things have happened in the legal world, says Prof. Banzhaf, predicting that some individual country or international tribunal will now soon be forced to confront the argument that a robot like Sophia has certain legal rights, and may even be forced to grant such a robot certain rights.

On a closely related issue, Banzhaf was the first to correctly predict that the availability of increasingly lifelike sexbots [sex robots] would create new and novel legal problems, especially now that entrepreneurs are operating very popular and profitable “brothels” which cannot be closed down because the “prostitutes” are all sexbots, and manufacturers are making sexbots which can realistically simulate the rape of adult women, or even of young children of either gender.

The post Robot Granted Citizenship; Could Create Serious Legal Problems Elsewhere appeared first on ValueWalk.

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