"Ways of Social Robot Worldmaking," Dr. Adam J. Bowen, BQBI, February 2022

Should robots have rights? Often debates concerning whether robots and AI should be afforded rights focus on conditions of personhood and the possibility of future advanced forms of AI satisfying particular intrinsic cognitive and moral attributes of rights-holding persons (cf. Gunkel 2012, Bryson, Diamantis, and Grant 2017, Schwitzgebel & Garza 2020, Liao 2020). Such discussions raise compelling questions about machine consciousness, autonomy, and value alignment with human interests. Although these are important theoretical concerns, especially from a future design perspective, they provide limited guidance for addressing the moral and legal standing of current and near-term AI that operate well below the cognitive and moral agency of human persons. Robots and AI are already being pressed into service in a wide-range of social roles, transforming our world. The design and large-scale implementation of social robots in the context of core societal institutions like healthcare systems continues to rapidly develop. For example, we bring them into our homes, hospitals, and other care facilities to assist in care for the sick, disabled, elderly, children, or otherwise vulnerable persons. We entrust them with social roles involving companionship and even assisting in intimate caregiving tasks (e.g. bathing, feeding, turning, medicine administration, monitoring, transporting). As the applications for near-term AI increase and the roles of robots in restructuring our social worlds expand, we face pressing questions about the normative implications of human-robot interactions in our collective worldmaking, as well as the moral or legal status of social robots (cf. Darling 2012, 2014, Gunkel 2015, Estrada 2018). Should social robots, service robots operating in public and private spaces, be afforded some moral rights and legal protections as moral patients, even if they lack moral agency of their own (e.g. prohibitions on robot abuse and mistreatment)? How should we establish limiting factors and determine the extent of legal protections for social robots?
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