Never one to allow any debate or discussion of an issue, the European Union now apparently has unveiled plans to allow robots to copyright their work, and to be able to make money, according to this article that was shared by many readers here. In fact, this story emerged during the Turkish coup, and I have wanted to blog about it but unfortunately the news bumped it off these pages for a while. But it is in my estimation a significant story, not only for what it explicitly states and portends, but for those things it does not say and that lie hidden, as it were, between the lines:
You'll note that, at least ostensibly, the plan is to free robots from "ownership":
Officials want to have machines declared as “electronic persons” amid fears they could challenge humanity for control of the Earth.
The plans would mean the robots could claim copyright on their work and trade money – effectively allowing them to form functional societies.
Their owners could be liable to pay social security for the machines to cover any damage caused.
Now, note what we have: (1) an assertion that robots are a new kind of person, the "electronic person", giving them the same status in law as corporations, and (2) this is being done to "free them from their human masters", and then, on the other hand (3) "their owners could be liable to pay social security for the machines to cover any damage caused."
Of course, we've come to expect such behavior from the EU: enact and regulate first, close off discussion and debate, and then allow a "debate" of sorts to take place after the fact.
However, you'll have noted the contradiction: these robots are to be freed of their human masters, who nonetheless remain liable for their "social security". So indulge my high octane speculation for a moment... what might be lurking in between the lines here? What I suspect is going on is this: (1) the corporation that makes the robots will force their owners to sign "licensing" agreements, (2) under these agreements, the robots make works and earn money, and the corporations receive a "cut of the action," while (3) the robots' owners are held liable for any damages robots might cause.
Pretty nifty arrangement, huh?
But at the heart of this plan are some egregious assumptions, and highly debatable ones at that: can machines be genuinely intelligent, can they be persons? And underlying this idea, of course, is the doctrine of corporate personhood: does the ability to perform a certain function really define personhood at all? Those genuinely familiar with the latter doctrine know its dubious theological roots in a doctrine that obtained in the Christian West, but not in the Christian East. So I'm bold to suggest, once again, that before we rush headlong and without adequate and genuinely democratic discussion of the issues involved, that this is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed, for making robots "electronic persons" while holding their owners liable seems to be yet one more brick in the edifice of the power of international corporations. Robots, if one parses the language closely, appears to be the latest weapon of choice to loot and harvest the wealth of working people.
See you on the flip side...