Should humanoid robots have similar rights to humans?

To give you a bit of a look behind the curtain to see how the Hypertext sausage is made, we receive an inordinate amount of press releases every day. Now and then one comes across our inbox that sparks a bit of a debate in the office, today’s example of that is from Telkom.

We’ll admit the subject line “Why humans should consider granting rights to robots” was very alluring, but the content of this release had some on our team rolling their eyes.

As the subject alludes to, humanoid robots are becoming a reality. Firms like Tesla are building the Optimus Gen 2 which has human-like limbs. Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robots are often seen busting a move or completing an obstacle course. Even smartphone and smart home appliance maker Xiaomi has shown off a humanoid robot.

These companies and many others are preparing for a surge in demand for humanoid robots, if that is even a thing that is going to happen.

Analysts from Goldman Sachs sure do believe it’s a market with potential with the firm stating that the market for humanoid robots could be worth up to $154 billion by 2035. This hinges on companies overcoming the hurdles of design, use case, affordability, and most importantly, public acceptance.

This is where Telkom’s release pondering the need for robot rights comes into the story.

“With their presence becoming increasingly integrated into our lives, ethical and philosophical questions surrounding whether legal or moral rights should ever be granted to humanoid robots have become pivotal,” Malebu Makgalemela Mogohloane, executive: Enterprise Risk Management at Telkom is quoted as saying in the release.

“While it might seem trivial, we must think about the implications of creating entities that mirror us in form and, on increasingly many levels, function,” the executive said.

The press release takes a turn when Telkom suggests that “humanoids could be subjected to various forms of exploitation, including long working hours, low wages, and unsafe conditions.”

Now this is where we recoiled a bit. By and large the robots we’ve mentioned above are being created to do some of the more riskier jobs presently done by humans. In our opinion the whole point of their existence is to be subjected to long working hours, low wages (are we considering paying robots for their work?), and unsafe conditions.

To bring this back to the present day, should we be paying data servers for operating 24/7/365? Should bomb disposal robots get danger pay? It’s slightly ludicrous to consider giving tools rights.

Mogohloane mentions these future robots could be developed with high intellect and emotions and so we need to ensure that their development, use, and care adhere to ethical standards. This is assuming that robots are considered human which is a topic that sci-fi properties have debated for decades at this stage.

Could a robot that has emotions and a stream of consciousness be considered human and if so, does it get the same rights as a human?

The problem here is that we are trying to determine something that hasn’t happened. As of right now, robots available to the public include vacuum cleaners and small bots that deliver food or display advertising at trade shows. The idea of a humanoid robot, while not decades away, is something that is currently in development.

However, these robots that are being developed are being developed as tools, tools that are meant to be able to work long hours, work in dangerous conditions and work for less money than a human.

Where we do agree with Mogohloane is that legislation surrounding these humanoid bots should become a consideration sooner rather than later. As humans, we need to decide how we are going to treat robots and whether we treat them as tools or as peers. Governments have traditionally moved slow when reacting to new technology and when it comes to humanoid robots, that pace needs to be increased.

For example, should a human be allowed to subject a humanoid with emotions to emotional abuse? Should a robot meant to comfort a human in their final days be forced to commit war crimes? These are interesting questions but the answers will be found in rigorous debate between ethics experts, attorneys, and lawmakers with experience in human rights.

We will admit that perhaps we are wrong in our thinking that robots don’t need rights and hopefully, we won’t have to find out how wrong we are should the robots rise.

Perhaps, Telkom executives should consider their workers and the fact that in 2023, the firm wanted to retrench 15 percent of its workforce. Perhaps then we should try to ensure that all humans are taken care before we start pondering wonderfully abstract concepts such as rights for robots.

[Image – Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay]


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