Monday, July 7, 2014

Does SCOTUS Intend to Grant Human Rights to Robots?

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby verdict, which rested heavily on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, it becomes increasingly important to question the direction that the Supreme Court of the United States of America has taken in terms of granting Human Rights to Corporations.

Corporations have existed in legal terms with a sort of mysterious "personhood" since their inception. It was a clever construct that allowed for better governance structures for big businesses and also as a means for privately held businesses to be separated from their owners. This is all well and good as long as the "personhood" aspect is understood to be metaphorical. In the reality that most humans live in,
corporations remain legal structures which exist only on paper or, in our more modern world, as bits of data. No one was suggesting that corporations needed to be fed or that they should procreate -- except in even more strictly metaphorical terms. Because certainly the metaphors run absolutely rampant when it comes to ascribing human traits to corporate behavior. But human rights... that is another matter entirely.

Robot Rebellion from R.U.R.
From R.U.R.
The notion that a bunch of ones and zeros in some digital data bank could be given the same protections as those afforded to our children or grandparents is somewhat unsettling. Certainly the stakeholders and the executive officers deserve all the protection that our Constitution and all the laws of the nation can muster. That is reasonable, and as such those People are already fully protected. But the structure that holds this revolving group of executives and stakeholders together is not something that is capable of having its rights infringed upon, as it has no body or soul, and is intended as a rigid structure so it even lacks the moral malleability of the human heart or intellect. The closest anthropomorphic realization of a Corporation would be as a Robot, that computer file given a body, perhaps with morally unavoidable bits of other data in the mix to offer the potential for whims. And it begs the question asked by great thinkers for nearly 100 years: should Robots have the same rights as Humans?

Reading the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, it is clear that it was designed to protect a Person from having his or her religious freedom restricted. In spite of how adamantly SCOTUS pushes for Corporations to be treated as flesh and blood equals, sane people everywhere still seem to agree that humans and robots should not be treated as the same thing. Perhaps, as Karel Čapek suggested in his 1920 allegorical fantasty, it will be possible one day for Corporations to develop a soul, to feel love, but that seems highly improbable from the vantage point of Reality.

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