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Should Robots Have Moral or Legal Rights?

Last year a software engineer at Google made an unusual assertion: That an artificial-intelligence chatbot developed at the company had become sentient, was entitled to rights as a person and might even have a soul. After what the company called a “lengthy engagement” with the employee on the issue, Google fired him.

It’s unlikely this will be the last such episode. Artificial intelligence is writing essays, winning at chess, detecting likely cancers, and making business decisions. That’s just the beginning for a technology that will only grow more powerful and pervasive, bolstering longstanding worries that robots might someday overtake us.

Yet far less attention has been paid to how we should treat these new forms of intelligence, some of which will be embodied in increasingly anthropomorphic forms. Might we eventually owe them some kind of moral or legal rights? Might we feel we should treat them like people if they look and act the part?

Answering those questions will force society to address profound social, ethical, and legal quandaries. What exactly is it that entitles a being to rights, and what kind of rights should those be? Are there helpful parallels in the human relationship with animals? Will the synthetic minds of tomorrow, quite possibly destined to surpass human intelligence, someday be entitled to vote or to marry? If they make an articulate demand for such rights, will anyone be in a position to say no?

These concerns might seem far-fetched. But the robot invasion is already well under way. The question of rights for these soon-to-be-ubiquitous artificial forms of intelligence has gained urgency from the sudden prominence of ChatGPT and the AI-powered new form of Microsoft’s Bing. Both of which have astounded with their sophisticated responses to user questions.

“We need to think about this right now,” says David Gunkel, author of the book Robot Rights. Citing the rapid spread of AI and its fast-growing capabilities, he adds: “We are already in this territory.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

The world continues to play down the unique sacredness of human life and is willing to grant equality to animals or manmade robots. Humankind was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Only we have the “breath of God” (Gen. 2:7) and are unique among all of creation. Only God can create life; the best we can do is create an imitation of life in AI.

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