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When is a fully autonomous machine that can communicate with society and think for it self become classified as a being that can "own" property and manage others? Also, do they have certain rights at that point?

I understand we may not be this far in the future but I think it is possible as time goes on.

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The law in most countries currently recognises two types of person

Natural persons: that is human beings who have various rights and obligations under the law. Different people may have different rights and obligations: for example:

  • children are different from adults,
  • citizens are different from non-citizens,
  • residents are different from non-residents,
  • soldiers are different from civilians,
  • etc.

Legal persons: have legal rights such as the ability to enter contracts, sue and be sued, own property etc. All natural persons are legal persons. In addition, the law has created different types of juridical persons, the most universal of which is the corporation. Others include cooperatives, unincorporated associations, partnerships, sovereign states, some supra-national organisations like the United Nations and the European Union, temples, some rivers (the Whanganui in New Zealand and the Ganges in India) - not all types are recognised in all jurisdictions.

Non-legal persons: Everything else is not a legal person. This includes plants and animals, man-made objects like buildings and ships and parts of other legal persons like the board of directors of a corporation or the legislature of a government. In most parts of the world computer programs also fall into this category.

To date, only one country has granted one robot citizenship, Saudi Arabia and Sophia. However, this appears to be largely a publicity stunt without any thought given to the legal consequences (if any). For example, it is by no means clear if being a citizen means that you are a legal person.

When and how will this change?

Being able to "think for yourself" is not a prerequisite for personhood. Most juridical persons can't do this - they have to use agents to do their thinking for them. Similarly, many things that can think for themselves - like dogs and cats and orang-utans - are not persons, juridical or natural.

It's possible that AIs will never be permitted to enter "personhood" irrespective of how intelligent they are. Or it's possible that they will become juridical persons without gaining any or all of the rights of a natural person. Or they might be given different rights.

When it comes before a court, then the law will decide.

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  • Thank you! Appreciate the in depth response regarding other countries to!
    – love2phish
    Nov 2, 2020 at 19:16
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As of present moment, under no circumstances.

That said, the law may and probably will change around that. But the time has not come just yet. Trying to predict what the law will be is out of scope of this site.

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  • I have read some of you other questions (about AI) and it sparked this question idea. Thank you for your time and your wisdom. With I could mark both as answers!
    – love2phish
    Nov 2, 2020 at 19:20

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