A woman with a robot
Reuters/ Kim Kyung Hoon
Who could hurt this little guy?
AI-QUALITY

There’s an organization devoted to fighting for robot rights

By Olivia Goldhill

Fears about robots tend to focus on how advanced machines could change, or destroy, human society. One organization, though, is focused on the opposite perspective: How humans could harm robots.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots (ASPCR) is devoted to advocating for robot rights. The organization was cited in a paper published in Trends of Cognitive Sciences last week as an example of those considering the need for legal protections for machines. ASPCR has been fighting this fight for a long time, at least since its founding in 1999.

The ASPCR website explains that, if machines do eventually become intelligent, sentient beings, then surely it would be as cruel to hurt them as it would to harm any sentient being. “Failure to recognize and grant these rights to non-human artificial intelligences would be similar to early western cultures’ failure to recognize the humanity and attendant rights of non-European peoples,” reads the website. Perhaps anticipating derision, the site notes that when the ASPCA (The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was founded in the 1890’s, its mission was also ridiculed.

ASPCR isn’t alone in its efforts. For example, the European Parliament has also considered what rights and obligations apply to robots. Perhaps robots don’t need such legal protection yet, but the thinking is that we should start developing frameworks now so that, once truly intelligent robots do arrive, we’re ready.

At the moment, ASPCR lays out why robots deserve rights, but doesn’t go further in its advocacy work. “I just made a humorous website based on an idea that might someday actually become relevant,” the creator, Pete Remine, told Motherboard in 2015. “And if it doesn’t, at least the murderous killbots will know I was on their side.”

So how serious is ASPCR’s mission, really? Its website has a succinct answer: “The ASPCR is, and will continue to be, exactly as serious as robots are sentient.”