Will robots have inalienable rights?

Stephen Beard Dec 21, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: Today Japan handed out awards for the most innovative robots.Top honors went to a robot that helps the elderly or disabled eat. But if the British government has its way, these robots may not just come with instructions. From London, Stephen Beard reports on the Robot Bill of Rights.


STEPHEN BEARD: This is not a prediction, the authors of the study are at pains to point out. This is what they call “horizon scanning.”

Researchers have looked at a vast array of technical and environmental scenarios that could unfold over the next 50 years. The study on the role of robots is pretty far out.

Julian Thompson of the research company Ipsos Mori says we may have to treat robots like fellow citizens.

JULIAN THOMPSON: If we can start to create machines that have complex understanding of themselves and the world around them, where do we draw the line with citizenship? If they’re part of our world and we expect them to do things for us, we really have to have a serious debate about of the role of machines in our lives and what rights and responsibilities we extend to them.

Robots might gain the right to welfare, housing and regular health checks, says the study. And they might be able to sue if these were denied.

The researchers insist their purpose is to explore all the possibilities to help ensure that government is prepared.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.