The Co-evolution of Legal Responsibility and Technology
Chapter 9: Machines and systems as legal and moral subjects
There is an unresolved debate as to whether autonomous machines and systems should be given legal status. The argument in favor of doing so is pragmatic: legal status would ensure that an artificial agent’s actions have legal effect and could serve as a form of protection for parties that deal with the agent. Others, however, are concerned that legal obligations and legal status entail legal rights, and they take the view that such rights should not be given to autonomous technologies, even the most sophisticated technologies. The question whether artificial agents should be given legal rights moves easily to the question whether they deserve moral consideration, or patiency. The debate centers around issues such as whether there are meaningful differences between humans and autonomous machines, the possibility (or impossibility) of machine consciousness, and what effect treating artificial agents will have on the way we treat each other. The debate is unlikely to be resolved, in part because these issues involve unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions about ourselves and how we should treat each other. Further, we will simply need more experience with autonomous technologies, particularly the most sophisticated of them, before we can begin to fully understand the scope of the problem and what appropriate responses to it might be. However, even though the debate remains open, despite the concerns raised by some commentators about this, the propensity of humans to anthropomorphize machines and the efforts of some developers to encourage this tendency will likely tip the balance in favor of granting at least the most sophisticated technologies legal rights and moral consideration.
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