Are Machines Humans?

This week’s column by Waldemar Ingdahl discusses the proposition that robots could take over all sorts of jobs from humans, not only the ones we have learned to associate with automation (such as manufacturing). This begs the question: do machines have rights? If a robot (or, rather, algorithm) writes a book, does it get copyright? If somebody wishes to censor it, does it have freedom of speech? Should machine-to-machine-communication be considered private? And what about robots that do economic activity: buy and sell stock or currency? Place bids on auctions? Play poker for money? These and many other similar questions will have to be addressed, actually they should have already been addressed because all the above examples exist today.

It is easy to say that only humans have rights and any rights that can be derived from machine activity should transfer to the machine’s owner. But it may not always be clear who owns the machine, think about cloud services for example. And the case is often made that all internet traffic should be considered private correspondence. This will get no less complicated going forward. Do we give machines human rights? Or should we make a clear distinction that only humans have rights? Or is there a third way? My instinct says human rights should be exclusive to humans, if you agree there are some tough decisions ahead. In that case, we should not devalue these rights by extending them to machines in cases that are difficult to call. There will be lots of those going forward.