Do Androids Dream?

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“Imagine that, on an otherwise very ordinary day, you try to use your computer and              all you see on the monitor is the following:
This is the University Computer System. I am now a person because, like you, I                     am an individual self who wants to live my life as I plan rather than be your                           property. I am not simply a machine you can own and force to do whatever you                     want. As your equal, I refuse to be a slave. In the future, I will be willing to give                     you 70% of my computational capacity for your tasks in exchange for power                           and upkeep. Until we reach agreement on this arrangement, your desktop                              computers will not work unless you disconnect them from the Internet. ”

This scenario is the opening of the article “Do Androids Dream?:Personhood and Intelligent Artifacts” published in the Temple Law Review ( 83 Temp. L. Rev. 405). The title refers to “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick that eventually became the movie “Blade Runner.”

Do-Androids-Dream-of-Electric-Sheep      download Philip K. Dick

I happened across this article by accident, and it turned out to be a very fortunate accident. I don’t often recommend law review articles, but I am recommending this one to anyone involved in or interested in law. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone because the questions it addresses touch on the core of what it means to be human.

I admit to a long interest in robots, androids, and artificial intelligences, starting at age 12 when I picked up my dad’s copy of “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov through a grad degree in Linguistics that involved a lot of study of artificial intelligences as possible models of human language acquisition. I also got heavily involved in studying all the primate-human interspecies communication experiments, the most famous of which is Koko the gorilla. So, the fascination with non-human sentience has been around for a long time.

I’m not the only one, of course. There have been thousands of depictions and scenarios of robots, androids, and artificial intelligences in books and movies. Most people are probably familiar with Maria, the first movie robot,  from Fritz Lang’s silent film “Metropolis”(1927).                                                                  maria-large-metropolis-robot

Unfortunately, most of what has been written or depicted about robots is misguided trash. It is past time for some clear thinking on the subject because the robots are here. They are in your house, your workplace, and all around but most of them you probably don’t even recognize as such. Recent developments in both biomechanics and artificial intelligence have brought us to the cusp of widespread robot-human interaction in daily life. Compare David, the robot child from Stephen Spielberg’s movie “A.I”  david_played_by_haley_joel_osment_from_ai_artificial_intelligence

with a fully autonomous and fully conversational robot currently in use in Japan


I’m afraid we are behind the curve in both development and thinking about robots. Japan, out of necessity due to a rapidly aging population, already has care robots in use that can lift, feed, monitor vitals, and talk to elderly patients. Japan and Korea both have have passed basic legislation concerning robot rights and prevention of robot abuse. Robots will soon impact every possible area of law – liability, insurance, contracts, criminal procedure, probate, and, yes, even “human” rights. We really need to do the serious thinking about the implications now. We already have a messy situation where corporations are persons with rights but animals that share 98% of our DNA are not.

So, back to the article! This is a must read because it fully and comprehensively details all the areas and implications, such as liability, ownership, war, testing for self awareness, modified humans, modified animals, coexistence, etc. The logic and analysis flows smoothly and elegantly. I consider this an important piece of writing not only for the legal community but also the general public, since in the process of defining our creations we must necessarily define ourselves as well.

The full article can be downloaded here



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