What rights should robots have?

On October 25, Sophia, a delicate looking woman with doe-brown eyes and long fluttery eyelashes made international headlines. She’d just become a full citizen of Saudi Arabia — the first robot in the world to achieve such a status.

Sophia’s announcement also raises a number of Bladerunner-esque questions. What does it mean to be a citizen? What rights does Sophia hold? Saudi Arabia has not elaborated on this so far

Saudi Arabia recently announced that they have granted citizenship to Sophia, a robot created by Hanson Robotics.  This came as a surprise to most because a female robot which does not wear a hijab has been granted citizenship in a country where women were granted the right to drive only recently and where children of Saudi Arabian women who are married to foreigners do not get citizenship.

But this move does raise an important question. What does it mean for a robot to be a citizen of a country? What are Sophia's rights and responsibilities?

In my quest to find out more about what robot rights means, I stumbled upon a few articles with  very interesting perspectives, which I am presenting as a potpourri below.

[The Guardian] Give robots 'personhood' status, EU committee argues

The proposed legal status for robots would be analogous to corporate personhood, which allows firms to take part in legal cases both as the plaintiff and respondent.
“How does it affect people if they think you can have a citizen that you can buy. Giving AI anything close to human rights would allow firms to pass off both legal and tax liability to these completely synthetic entities,” says Bryson.
If robots become citizens, they cannot be property, but without sentience, they cannot exercise self-determination. How do they exercise their constitutional rights? Do they get legal guardians? What if Sophia’s guardian advocates for her against Hanson?
If we continue to develop sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence, we have a moral obligation to improve our understanding of the conditions under which artificial consciousness might genuinely emerge.
MIT Media Lab researcher and robot ethics expert Kate Darling uses the example of parents who tell their child not to kick a robotic pet—sure, they don’t want to shell out money for a new toy, but they also don’t want their kid picking up bad habits. A kid who kicks a robot dog might be more likely to kick a real dog or another kid.

We generally don’t want to perpetuate destruction or violence, regardless of who—or what—is on the receiving end.

What is clear from these articles is that, even though there are conflicting viewpoints, robot rights is NOT a trivial issue.  While I agree with Kate Darling's view that mistreating a robot has the potential to lead to other destructive behavior, I can also see Bryson's view that being able to "buy" a citizen does not send the right message. The legal implications that corporate entities may be entitled to by granting robots personhood will also need further clarification. I am hoping we have more clarity around these soon.