The robots are coming, the robots are here, the robots are… being abused?
That's according to the above video, which features clips of humans physically abusing robots. It's set to the obligatory sample of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," and is brought to you by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots. Only the ASPCR had nothing to do with it.
The video is "completely unaffiliated with me and the 'real' ASCPR," Pete Remine, who founded the Seattle-based robots rights project in 1999, told me. But he doesn't mind. "That's awesome! The end caption puts a little parody twist on it which I really liked."
"The ASPCR is not about "fake" robot ethics issues like 'don't kick the Amibo' or 'that poor DARPA quad-bot looks sad,' said Remine, "it's about having a solid ethical foundation and perhaps even a legal structure for non-human personhood in place for the moment if and when 'robots' become self-aware and wish to begin participating in society along with the rest of us sapient beings."
So, how should we regulate the relationship between humans and machines? If it wasn't already a sticky question, it would seem to be one now, as artificial intelligence gets increasingly more intelligent. AI is still pretty rudimentary, of course. But that doesn't mean AI hasn't finally pulled out of a long "winter" of research abandonment by the robotics community writ large.
At its core, the ASPCR falls on "the positive side of AI futurology," Remine told me. "AI can and will be valued partners in the next phase of human development [and] existence." That means we must be prepared to treat sentient machines as such, he explained, "not as property to be used and disposed of, servants to be ordered and owned, or dangerous enemies to be contained and controlled."
Remine has only a casual interest in robotics and artificial intelligence; he's a musician and recording engineer, not ethicist, scientist, or expert of any kind. The whole thing is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Remine firmly believes robots should have the same rights as any sentient being, "To wit: life, liberty, and the pursuit of greater cognition." And he's not alone.
"There is a robust and established system of justice and punishment for people who violate human rights and animal rights. There's no reason to believe that robot rights would need to be handled any differently"
Android abuse drew a bit of attention in 2007, when the Robot Division of South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy was establishing a robot ethics charter. They're meant to riff on Isaac Asimov's famous three law of robotics, and argue for the responsible use of robots free from exploitation by humans.
"As robots will have their own internal states such as motivation and emotion, we should not abuse them," leading South Korean robotics expert Jong-Hwan Kim told The Independent at the time. "We will have to treat them in the same way that we take care of pets."
The big question, then, is if (and when) we humans should bestow legal rights"to any sort of artificial intelligent entity that we create—be it self-aware software, intelligent robots, biological clones or whatever," Robert Freitas, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto, told NPR in 2012. "I don't see how we can avoid it. Whether or not we want to create such entities, if the laws of physics permit them, then someday they'll exist and we'll have to deal with them."
The hope at that point, Remine said, would be for the ASPCR to begin operating as "a bonafide NPO entity"—think the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—"complete with lobbyists, enforcement, oversight, executive direction and legal representation."
When I asked Remine why the everyday citizen, who perhaps instinctively equates "robot" with "Terminator," should care about robot rights, he said he wasn't sure. "That's a huge question. I don't think I have a good answer for you on this one," he admitted. But he does take a firm stance on what should happen to people who abuse robots. "There is a robust and established system of justice and punishment for people who violate human rights and animal rights. There's no reason to believe that robot rights would need to be handled any differently."
Then again, maybe we're getting too far ahead of ourselves. Remine said the ASCPR is "only as serious as robots are intelligent." Which at the moment, is not very intelligent.
"I just made a humorous website based on an idea that might someday actually become relevant," he admitted. "And if it doesn't, at least the murderous killbots will know I was on their side."