Legal Scholar: Not Your Grandfather's Robot

July 3, 2014

Robots—both utilitarian and fanciful—have become mainstays of popular culture and everyday life. But will there come a time when robots are considered to be people? That’s the question Mark Goldfeder, senior lecturer in law, director of the Law and Religion Students Program, and Spruill Family Senior Fellow at Emory University, tackles in an op-ed on the CNN Opinion website.

“For the first time, a computer program passed the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. . . . That outcome means we need to start grappling with whether machines with artificial intelligence should be considered persons, as far as the law is concerned,” writes Goldfeder.  

The question has become a mainstay of popular culture, he continues, pointing at movies such as “Transcendence,” “Her,” and the “Robocop” and “Star Wars” franchises. “A question at the heart of all these movies is this: At what point does a computer move from property to personhood?” writes Goldfeder.

He goes on to say, “From the practical legal perspective, robots could and should be people. As it turns out, they can already officially fool us into thinking that they are, which should only strengthen their case. The notion of personhood has expanded significantly, albeit slowly, over the last few thousand years. Throughout history, women, children and slaves have all at times been considered property rather than persons. . . . New categories of personhood are matters of decision, not discovery.

To read the entire essay on CNN.com, click here.

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