Citizenship for a robot

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently awarded citizenship to a robot developed by Future Investment Initiative. Certainly, the entire event reads more like a publicity stunt than a sign of advanced robotic development or intelligence. Also considering Saudi Arabia’s current issues with women’s rights this event has an extra level of irony (see also describing the robot in purely appearance-based terms).

Leaving the above stunt aside the idea of robots with high levels of intelligence are a popular part of the wider pop culture. The questions of what happens when robots with human-level intellect are developed are many and indeed strike at the heart of what it means to be human.

Robot Citizens Moral, Legal, And Philosophical Considerations

  • What Constitutes Murder: once robotics has advanced enough to the point where they have free will the concept of murder enters the discussion. A robot that has gone rogue would have to be deactivated. Indeed if robot citizens have evolved to the point of human-level intelligence then existing laws about self-defence, assault, and murder would likely apply in a similar fashion. Laws for dangerous animals could apply for robots of lower intellectual awareness.
  • A Right To Happiness: this is a tricky area. The right to happiness is a vague concept but one that is found in most modern societies for individuals to live a life they find satisfying. Robots exhibiting free will and a decision making process advanced enough to show a preference for life’s choices would qualify under the overarching concept.
  • Ownership: who owns a robot becomes an important question when you’re dealing with intelligent beings. It is a possibility that not all robots will have human-level intelligence many may be only as smart as a dog or other intelligent animal. In such cases, a robot would have an owner or caretaker more humanlike robots as citizens would ‘own themselves’.
  • Cremation And Funeral Rites: what happens when a robot ceases to function. Will they have cremation or funeral rites as a person would? This would likely take several forms. The abstract thinking required for a philosophical worldview (including religious ceremony) is one of the most advanced signs of an independent intelligence. A highly advanced robot may consider its place in the universe and request cremation for both practical and ceremonial purposes. However, it is also worth noting people have cremation now for pets and even less advanced robots may receive such ceremonial functions.
  • End Of Life: organic life forms die naturally. However, robots can be repaired and as such could theoretically exist for an indefinite time period. How would a nation define the end of life for its robotic citizens? As with the philosophical argument concerning cremation end of life could very well depend on the level of intelligence the robot has. Much like immortality being a burden is a common theme in fiction some robots with advanced intelligence may seek an end of their own choosing. By comparison, simpler robots may be dependant on their caretakers or owners like pets or livestock.
  • Wills And Inheritance: related to the above, can a robot have a will and by extension own property? This centres around the core idea that a significantly advanced robot will behave similarly to a human and understand ownership and the giving of items via inheritance or gifts. Wills also imply consideration of events after you have passed away which is abstract thinking. Much like the previously mentioned considerations, any robot capable of understanding these concepts will likely have existing ‘human’ law applied.