If an artificial intelligence was smart enough to handle all business activity and affairs could it be given ownership of a company?

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    Those qualification might indicate possibility of managing a company - it would take other properties to own it. Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 23:10
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    Jurisdiction? Where is it?
    – fraxinus
    Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 8:01
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    Note that among "natural" intelligences, there are some that own a company, but are not smart enough to handle all business activity. So apparently, these two porperties are only loosely related. Also note that the owner of a company may already be a non-natural person (e.g., another company), whose "intelligence" is not located in a (single) human brain Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 10:59
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    Note that there has never been anything even approaching true AI created yet. All occurrences of 'AI' you have seen are marketing terms used to advertise straightforward regression programs. You might as well ask if Microsoft Paint is allowed to own a company.
    – Brady Gilg
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 20:03
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    Does a corporation count as an analogue AI? Why not?
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


Short Answer

No. An AI cannot own a company.

Artificial intelligences are not legal persons. The law recognizes human beings and legally recognized entities as persons. It does not recognize AIs or for that matter non-human species as persons except in a handful of jurisdictions that recognize, for example, some select rivers as legal persons (e.g. New Zealand).

Approximate Alternatives

Something close would be possible, however.

It is possible to establish a non-profit corporation without owners, or to establish a non-profit entity that is not a corporation (often called a "foundation") that has no owners. These entities are required to have humans who serve on a board of directors. But, the nonprofit entity or foundation could have bylaws that delegate decision making responsibility on all or many matters to an AI, in much the way that decision making responsibility of all or many matters might be delegated to the CEO of a nonprofit corporation.

While the AI can't own anything and indeed, to the contrary, would be owned by the entity, the AI's actions could cause the entity to earn income, to acquire and dispose of property, and to participate in lawsuits. And, while most non-profit entities and foundations are designed to have charitable purposes in order to garner tax benefits, there are many kinds of non-profits that exist for non-charitable purposes (e.g. country clubs, stock exchanges, HOAs and political organizations).

If an AI was vested with management of most key parts of an entity's operations, that entity had no owners, and its board of directors was relatively docile, this would come reasonably close, in practice, to what an AI owned entity would look like.

How The Law Could Be Changed

Indeed, one plausible form of organization for the AI would be as a political organization which could be devoted to the purpose of reforming the law to give AIs personhood status. If one U.S. state did so, for example, this would allow all AIs to use that state's law to form entities owned by them, that could operate in any U.S. state, since geographic constraints do not really apply to AIs. And, it doesn't take that much money to lobby a single state to adopt a law if there is no obvious constituency to oppose the adoption of the law.

Analogous Historical Precedents

There are deep historical precedents for allowing people who were not legally allowed to own property to manage businesses.

In the Roman Empire, the practice of having a slave operate a business or venture or transaction as an agent of the slave's owner was well recognized. This was also true, to a much narrower extent and much less frequently, under American chattel slavery.

In the medieval and early modern era in Europe and in the post-colonial regimes in the Americas, it was not uncommon in jurisdictions that did nt otherwise recognize the right of a married woman to own property or to be recognized as a legal person in a court to be allowed to manage her husband's affairs on his behalf in his absence as his delegate agent to do so (often for long periods of time, for example, when the husband was away at war, and for entire fiefdoms for which the aristocratic husband was the lord).

European law also recognized the concept that when a royal or noble title was inherited by an oldest son due to the death of his father, when the son was just a child, that the mother could serve a regent for the son and manage the affairs of the jurisdiction associated with the son's title, even though the mother was not legally permitted to hold that title in her own right.

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    "and its board of directors was relatively docile"—sure, but as a legal matter, the board of directors would ultimately be responsible for the organization's actions even if they delegated some responsibilities to an AI. A board can hire a human executive director, but they still have duties of their own that they can't delegate away. Which leads to some questions about who would really be running the organization. Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 20:52
  • Interesting point about the Whanganui river. Leads to many question like "can the river vote/marry/own property/ be charged with a crime like murder ?" etc.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 0:56
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    Sophia is a citizen of Saudi Arabia....
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 2:24
  • In some jurisdictions, off the shelf corporations always have "owners". Eg, in the UK all registered companies and industrial and provident societies have members/shareholders or some ultimate authority that can decide to wind up the company etc. So the AI would ultimately not have the final say. New Zealand may be different in this respect. Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 15:24
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    @Criggie I expect that is best viewed as a so-called "legal fiction" rather than the river actually being recognized as a person. More like, they will just pretend the river is a person, for the purpose of this court case. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 21:51

Not yet.

For that to happen, a law needs to pass that will recognise AIs meeting certain criteria to be legal persons, or a judge needs to be convinced to recognise them as such.

It will probably happen at some point, but still a long way to go.

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    Why do you think it will probably happen? My understanding is that the law like to have someone to hold accountable.
    – John Glen
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 0:10
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    @JohnGlen Accountable? The whole point of structures like LLCs is to make people behind them as less accountable as possible, so accountability is not an impediment for granting rights to AI. Beside that, I envision human mind/consciousness will amalgamate with AI (Musk's brain implants start paving the pathway to that) to the extent that people will have their personality decentralised and endure beyond physiological death of the original brain.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 0:26
  • @Greendrake That's not how accountability works in structures like that. For instance what keeps a board of directors from ordering a murder and then going "Can't prosecute me, we did it in our capacity as a board!" Go ogle "Piercing the corporate veil"... *there has to be something behind that veil who is actionable before you can give that entity person-powers. Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 4:19
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica AIs can have supervisors ("directors") too. I don't see how AIs would be different in that regard to LLCs. Then, it's the shareholders/owners who are shielded, not the directors.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 4:30
  • I'm a bit curious about the statement "for [AIs owning a company] a law needs to pass that will recognise AIs meeting certain criteria to be legal persons." I'm pretty sure that legal entities other then humans can own companies; for example, companies can own companies. (And I see that companies are legal persons, in law.) Does a company need to have employees? Certainly not. Can it perform certain legal business automatically? Absolutely, e.g. send out automated missing payment notices. So the question is rather "what cannot be done today without a human?" Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 7:58

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