Do machines have rights? It's a classic question in science fiction, but we've reached a point where the question can be hammered out in actual case law too. A new paper from Ryan Calo at the University of Washington digs into some of the relevant questions, and it makes for a surprisingly good read. Even the cases that don't directly bear on robot rights make for pretty impressive anecdotes. As Calo writes:
In Robotic Vision Systems, Inc. v. Cybo Systems, Inc., for instance, a client of a robotics firm sued because, rather than send human technicians to resolve an installation problem, the robotics firm sent two robots named Al Bove and Al Treu. The client found the robots annoying and unhelpful and sued for breach of contract. In Reinhardt v. Fuller, a criminal defendant fired four shotgun blasts at a police robot during his arrest. Robotic props have repeatedly caused injuries on stage and film by behaving unexpectedly, including on the set of a movie about machines that came alive and hurt people.
(That last sentence is a reference to Maximum Overdrive, for the curious.)
Once Calo gets to the more serious issues, the questions get even more interesting. Does a using a robot replica of Vanna White in a Samsung ad count as an endorsement violation? (The Ninth Circuit says no.) Does an automated submarine sorting through a shipwreck count as a person taking possession of lost goods? (A trial court says yes.) They're all real questions from real cases, which makes it all the more fascinating.