Can AI Have the Same Rights as Humans?

In the US, Citizens United is colloquially known as the case that made corporations "people" in the eyes of the law—at least, to a certain extent. The US Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United made it possible for corporations to spend money on candidate elections. Although US law considers corporations "persons" under clauses such as the Equal Protection Clause, corporations are not considered "citizens."

While the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling was heavily criticized when it passed in 2010, the implications of the verdict have only become more significant with time. Among them lies a question rooted in technology: Could Artificial Intelligences (AI) be considered people?

Can AI Become People in the Eyes of the Law?

According to one Associate Professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, the answer to that question is: maybe?

There's a reason corporate personhood is a foreign concept in most countries. In Canada, a company currently appealing the Supreme Court for protection against "cruel and unusual punishment" has been criticized for setting a potentially dangerous precedent. But here in the US, corporate personhood has become part of our everyday lives, which may have unique implications for how AI functions in our society.

In an article for The Conversation, Associate Professor Roman V. Yampolskiy posited a way for AIs to be considered people in the eyes of the US legal system.

Here's how it works. You set up two Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) and put an AI in charge of each while still maintaining control. Then, you name each company as a member of the other LLC. Finally, you withdraw your leadership from the LLC, leaving both governed by an AI. Voila! You now have an AI, which, although not technically considered a "citizen," would still be seen as a "person" in the eyes of the law—at least, as long as the AI was acting as an LLC, or a corporation.

Professor Yampolskiy has several reservations about the implication of corporate personhood for AI. For example, depending on the efficacy of the AI, the AI could hypothetically become an employer, but who's to say it would have a firm grasp of human rights? Do we really feel comfortable with the idea of an AI voting in our elections? What are the implications of an AI that is considered a person and cannot die of natural causes?

As technology continues to advance and we move into the future, we will have to answer these kinds of questions. Whatever the answer, we're on the verge of a new legal frontier, with wide-ranging implications not just for the law but also for humanity as a species.

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