The Moral and Legal Status of Robots: A Confucian Alternative to Robot Rights

Philosophers and legal scholars have delved into the moral and legal status of robots. Some have argued for granting robots rights, but a recent analysis challenges this notion. Instead, the article proposes considering Confucianism as a way to approach the moral status of robots.

The analysis was conducted by a researcher from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and appears in the journal Communications of the ACM. The research highlights concerns about granting rights to robots and suggests a different perspective.

Tae Wan Kim, an Associate Professor at CMU’s Tepper School of Business who conducted the analysis, explains, “Granting rights to robots isn’t the only solution for addressing their moral status. Viewing robots as rites bearers, rather than rights bearers, may be more effective.”

Kim argues against the idea that respecting robots automatically leads to granting them rights. Instead, he looks to Confucianism, an ancient Chinese belief system that emphasizes harmony. Confucianism values the ability to consider interests beyond personal self-interest and encourages participation in proper rituals to enhance moral development.

According to Kim, assigning role obligations or rites to robots aligns better with the principles of Confucianism than granting them rights. This approach promotes teamwork and harmony, which is crucial to avoid potential conflicts between humans and robots.

“By assigning role obligations to robots, we can foster a sense of teamwork and ensure that these obligations are fulfilled harmoniously,” Kim explains. “For robots to become rites bearers, they need a form of artificial intelligence (AI) that can mimic human capacity to recognize and engage in team activities. There are several ways for machines to acquire this ability through AI.”

Kim acknowledges that some may question the need to treat robots with respect. However, he suggests that mistreating robots, which are created in our image, would ultimately degrade humanity and our ability to participate in rituals.

In society, various non-natural entities such as corporations are recognized as legal entities and enjoy certain rights. Additionally, other species besides humans have moral and legal considerations that protect them from unnecessary exploitation in laboratory experiments.

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