I specialize in identifying disruptive, core technologies and strategic technology trends in early-stage startups, research universities, government sponsored laboratories and commercial companies.

In my current role, I lead sourcing of strategic technology investment opportunities and managing Dyson’s diligence and outreach processes, specifically in the U.S., Israel and China.

I write here (sporadically) on the convergence of science and engineering, with broader adopted interests in novel disruptive technologies, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction (HCI), philosophy, linguistics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Legal personhood for artificial intelligences

They kept hooking hardware into him – decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers, bank on bank of additional memories, more banks of associational neural nets,’ another tubful of twelve-digit random numbers, a greatly augmented temporary memory. Human brain has around ten-to-tenth neurons. By third year Mike has better than one and a half times that number of neuristors. And woke up.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

Following Google I/O, Google's annual developer conference, where the company revealed the roadmap for highly-intelligent conversational AI and a bot-powered platform, as artificial intelligence disrupts how we live our lives, redefining how we would interact with present and future technology tools by automating things in a new way, it is inevitable we all have to imbibe the automated life gospel. One of the steps into that life is trying to unify the scope of the current technological advancements into a coherent framework of thought by exploring how current law applies to different sets of legal rights regarding artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence may generally be defined as the intelligence possessed by machines or software used to operate machines. It also encompasses the academic field of study that is more widely known as computer science. The basic premise of this field of study is that scientists can engineer intelligent agents that are capable of making accurate perceptions concerning their environment. These agents are then able to make correct actions based on these perceptions. The discipline of artificial intelligence explores the possibility of passing on traits that human beings possess as intelligent beings. These include knowledge, reasoning, the ability to learn and plan, perception, movement of objects and communication using language. As an academic field, it may be described as being interdisciplinary, as it combines sciences such as mathematics, computer science, and neuroscience as well as professional studies such as linguistics, psychology and philosophy. Professionals involved in the development of artificial intelligence use different tools to get machines to simulate characteristics of intelligence only found in humans.

But artificial intelligence only follows the lead of the already omnipresent challenges and changes to the existing legal frameworks. The twenty first century is undoubtedly the age of information and technology. Exciting scientific breakthroughs continue to be experienced as innovators work to create better, more intelligent and energy efficient machines. Rapid information technology development has posed challenges to several areas of law both domestically and internationally. Many of these challenges have been discussed at length and continue to be addressed through reforms of existing laws.

The trend towards reform of law to keep up with the growth of technology can also be illustrated by observing the use of social media to generate content. As social media has continued to grow and influence the world, international media law has recognized citizen journalism. The traditional role of journalists has been to generate and disseminate information. As the world’s population has gained increased access to smart devices, ordinary people have been able to capture breaking stories that are then uploaded to the internet through several platforms. This has eroded the sharp distinction that previously existed between professional journalists and ordinary citizens, as the internet provides alternatives to traditional news media sources.

There are innumerable examples of other ways in which information technology has caused changes in the existing legislative structures. The law is naturally elastic, and can be expanded or amended to adapt to the new circumstances created by technological advancement. The continued development of artificial intelligence, however, may challenge the expansive character of the law because it presents an entirely novel situation. To begin with, artificial intelligence raises philosophical questions concerning the nature of the minds of human beings. These philosophical questions are connected to legal and ethical issues of creating machines that are programmed to possess the qualities that are innate and unique to human beings. If machines can be built to behave like humans, then they must be accorded some form of legal personality, similar to that which humans have. At the very least, the law must make provision for the changes that advanced artificial intelligence will cause in the society through the introduction of a new species capable of rational, logical thought. By deriving general guidelines based on the case law of the past, it should aid the lawmakers to close the gap on technological singularity.

Legal personality endows its subjects with the capacity to have rights and obligations before the law. Without legal personality, there is no legal standing to conduct any binding transactions both domestically and internationally. Legal personality is divided into two categories. Human beings are regarded as natural or physical persons. The second category encompasses non-living legal subjects who are artificial but nonetheless treated as persons by the law. This is a fundamental concept in corporate law and international law. Corporations, states and international legal organizations are treated as persons before the law and are known as juridical persons. Without legal personality, there can be no basis upon which legal rights and duties can be established.

Natural persons have a wide array of rights that are recognized and protected by law. Civil and political rights protect an individual’s freedoms to self-expression, assemble, information, own property and self-determination. Social and economic rights acknowledge the individual’s fundamental needs to lead a dignified and productive life. These include the right to education, healthcare, adequate food, decent housing and shelter. As artificial intelligence continues to develop, and smarter machines are produced, it may be necessary to grant these machines legal personality.

This may seem like far-fetched scientific fiction, but it is in fact closer to reality than the general population is aware of. Computer scientists are at the frontline of designing cutting edge software and advanced robots that could revolutionize the way human live. Just like Turing’s machine was able to accomplish feats that were impossible for human mathematicians, scientists, and cryptologists, during World War II, the robots of the future will be able to think and act autonomously. Similarly, the positive implications of increased capacity to produce artificial intelligence, is the development of powerful machines. These machines could solve many of the problems that continue to hinder human progress such as disease, hunger, adverse weather and aging. The science of artificial intelligence would make it possible to program these machines to provide solutions to human problems, and their superior abilities would make it possible to find these solutions within a short period of time instead of decades or centuries.

The current legal framework does not provide an underlying definition of what determines whether a certain entity acquires legal rights. The philosophical approach does not yet distinguish between strong and weak forms of artificial intelligence.

Weak artificial intelligence merely facilitates a tool for enhancing human technological abilities. A running application comprising artificial intelligence aspects, such as Siri, represents only a simulation of a cognitive process but does not constitute a cognitive process itself. Strong artificial intelligence, on the other hand, suggests that a software application in principle can be designed to become aware of itself, become intelligent, understand, have perception of the world, and present cognitive states that are associated with the human mind.

The prospects for the development and use of artificial intelligence are exciting, but this narrative would be incomplete without making mention of the possible dangers as well. Humans may retain some level of remote control but the possibility that these created objects could rise up to positions of dominance over human beings is certainly a great concern. With the use of machines and the continual improvement of existing technology, some scientists are convinced that it is only a matter of time before artificial intelligence surpasses that of human intelligence.

Secondly, ethicists and philosophers have questioned whether it is sound to pass on innate characteristics of human beings on to machines if this could ultimately mean that the human race will become subject to these machines. Perhaps increased use of artificial intelligence to produce machines may dehumanize society, as functions that were previously carried out in the society become mechanized. In the past mechanization has resulted in loss of jobs as manpower is no longer required when machines can do the work. Reflections on history reveal that machines have assisted humans to make work easier, but it has not been possible to achieve an idyllic existence simply because machines exist.

Lastly, if this advanced software should fall into the hands of criminals, terrorist organizations or states that are set against peace and non-violence, the consequences would be dire. Criminal organizations could expand dangerous networks across the world using technological tools. Machines could be trained to kill or maim victims. Criminals could remotely control machines to commit crimes in different geographical areas. Software could be programmed to steal sensitive private information and incentivize corporate espionage.

The "singularity” is a term that was first coined by Vernor Vinge to describe a theoretical situation where machines created by humans develop superior intelligence and end the era of human dominance that would be as intelligent or more intelligent that human mind, using the exponential growth of computing power, based on the law of accelerating returns, combined with human understanding of the complexity of the brain.

As highlighted earlier, strong artificial intelligence that matches or surpasses human intelligence has not yet been developed, although its development has been envisioned. Strong artificial intelligence is a prominent theme in many science fiction movies probably because the notion of a super computer with the ability to outsmart humans is very interesting. In the meantime, before this science fiction dream can become a reality, weak artificial intelligence has slowly become a commonplace part of everyday life. Search engines and smart phone apps are the most common examples of weak artificial intelligence. These programs are simply designed and possess the ability to mimic simple aspects of human intelligence. Google is able to search for information on the web using key words or phrases inserted in by the user. The scenario of dominance by artificial intelligence seems a long way off from the current status quo. However, the launch of chatbots points towards the direction artificial intelligence will take in the near future using weak artificial intelligence.

Chatbots are the next link in the evolution chain of virtual personal assistants, such as Siri. Siri is the shortened version of the Scandinavian name Sigrid which means beauty or victory. It is a virtual personal assistant that is able to mimic human elements of interaction as it carries out its duties. The program is enabled with a speech function that enables it to reply to queries as well as take audio instructions. This is impressive as it does not require the user to type instructions. Siri is able to decode a verbal message, understand the instructions given and act on these instructions. Siri is able to provide information when requested to do so. It can also send text messages, organize personal schedules, book appointments and take note of important meetings on behalf of its user. Another impressive feature of the program is its ability to collect information about the user. As the user gives more instructions Siri stores this information and uses it to refine the services it offers to the user. The excitement that has greeted the successful launch of Siri within the mass market is imaginable. After Siri, came the chatbots. Chatbots are a type of conversational agent, a software designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods. The technology may be considered as weak artificial intelligence, but the abilities demonstrated by the program offer a glimpse into what the future holds for artificial intelligence development. For legal regulators virtual personal assistants' features demand that existing structures be reviewed to accommodate the novel circumstances that its use has introduced. As more programs like Siri contitnue to be commercialized, these new legal grey areas will feature more often in mainstream debate. Intellectual property law and liability law will probably be the areas most affected by uptake of chatbots by consumers.

Intellectual property law creates ownership rights for creators or inventors, to protect their interests in the works they create. Copyright law in particular, protects artistic creations by controlling the means by which these creations are distributed. The owners of copyright are then able to use their artistic works to earn an income. Anyone else who wants to deal with the creative works for profit or personal use must get authorization from the copyright owner. Persons who infringe on copyright are liable to face civil suits, arrest and fines. In the case of chatbots, the owner of the sounds produced by the program has not been clearly defined. It is quite likely that in the near future, these sounds will become a lucrative form of creative work and when that does happen it will be imperative that the law defines who the owner of these sounds is. Users are capable of using chatbot's features to mix different sounds, including works protected by copyright, to come up with new sounds. In this case, the law is unclear whether such content would be considered to be new content or whether it would be attributed to the original producers of the sound.

Another important question that would have to be addressed would be the issue of ownership between the creators of artificial intelligence programs, the users of such programs and those who utilize the output produced by the programs. A case could be made that the creators of the program are the original authors and are entitled to copyright the works that are produced using such a program. As artificial intelligence gains popularity within the society and more people have access to machines and programs like Siri, it is inevitable that conflicts of ownership will arise as different people battle to be recognized as the owner of the works produced. From the perspective of intellectual property, artificial intelligence cannot be left within the public domain. Due to its innate value and its capacity to generate new content, there will definitely be ownership wrangles. The law therefore needs to provide clarity and guidance on who has the right to claim ownership.

Law enforcement agents must constantly innovate in order to successfully investigate crime. Although the internet has made it easier to commit certain crimes, programs such as the ‘Sweetie’, avatar run by the charity Terres des Hommes based in Holland, illustrate how artificial intelligence can help to solve crime. The Sweetie avatar was developed by the charity to help investigate sex tourists who targeted children online. The offenders in such crimes engage in sexual acts with children from developing countries. The children are lured into the illicit practice with promises that they will be paid for their participation. After making contact and confirming that the children are indeed underage, the offenders then request the children to perform sexual acts in front of the cameras. The offenders may also perform sexual acts and request the children to view them.

The offenders prey on vulnerable children who often come from poor developing countries. The children are physically and mentally exploited to gratify offenders from wealthy Western countries. In October 2014, the Sweetie avatar project experienced its first successful conviction of a sex predator. The man, an Australian national named Scott Robert Hansen admitted that he had sent nude images of himself performing obscene acts to Sweetie. Hansen also pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. Both these offenses were violations of previous orders issued against him as a repeat sexual offender. Sweetie is an app that is able to mimic the movements of a real ten year old girl. The 3D model is very lifelike, and the app allows for natural interactions such as typing during chats, nodding in response to questions asked or comments made. The app also makes it possible for the operator to move the 3D model from side to side in its seat. Hansen fell for the ploy and believed that Sweetie was a real child.

According to the court, it was immaterial that Sweetie did not exist. Hansen was guilty because he believed that she was a real child and his intention was to perform obscene acts in front of her. Although Hansen was the only person to be convicted as a result of the Terres des Hommes project, researchers working on it had patrolled the internet for ten weeks. In that time, thousands of men had gotten in touch with Sweetie. Terres des Hommes compiled a list of one thousand suspects which was handed over to Interpol and state police agencies for further investigations. The Sweetie project illustrates that artificial intelligence can be utilized to investigate difficult crimes such as sex tourism. The biggest benefit of such a project is that it created an avatar that was very convincing and removed the need to use real people in the undercover operation. In addition the project had an ideal way of collecting evidence through use of a form of artificial intelligence that was very difficult to contradict. Thus, in a way, artificial intelligence provided grounds for challenging the already existing legal rights of the accused

Presently the law provides different standards of liability for those who break the law. In criminal law, a person is liable for criminal activity if they demonstrate that they have both a guilty mind (the settled intent to commit a crime) and they performed the guilty act in line with this intent. In civil cases liability for wrongdoing can be reduced based on mitigating factors such as the contributory negligence of the other party. There is currently no explicit provision in law that allows defendants to escape liability by claiming that they relied on incorrect advice from an intelligent machine. However, with increased reliance on artificial intelligence to guide basic daily tasks, the law will eventually have to address this question. If a user of artificial intelligence software makes a mistake while acting on information from the software, they may suffer losses or damages arising from the mistake. In such cases the developers of the software may be required to compensate the user or incur liability for the consequences of their software’s failure. If machines can be built with the ability to make critical decisions, it is important to have a clear idea of who will be held accountable for the actions of the machine.

Autonomous driverless cars represent an interesting example of the inception for such decisions to be made in the future. Florida, Nevada, Michigan, and D.C. states have also passed laws allowing autonomous cars driving on their streets in some capacity. The question to how autonomous cars might lead to the change of the liability and ethical rights stands upon software ethical settings that might control self-driving vehicles to prioritize human lives over financial or property loss. The numerous ethical dilemmas revolving around autonomous cars choosing to save passengers over saving a child’s life could arise. The lawmakers, regulators and standards organizations should develop concise legal principles upon which such ethical questions will be addressed by defining a liable entity.

Turing, one of the fathers of modern computer science and artificial intelligence, envisioned a world in which machines could be designed to think independently and solve problems. Modern scientists still share Turing’s vision. It is this vision that inspires countless mathematicians and developers around the world to continue on designing better software applications with greater capabilities. The scientific community and the society at large, have several positive expectations concerning artificial intelligence and the potential benefits humankind could reap from its development. Intelligent machines have the potential to make our daily lives easer as well as unlock mysteries that cannot be solved by human ingenuity. They also have the potential to end the dominance of human beings on this planet. The need for law to be reformed with regard to artificial intelligence is apparent. As the world heads into the next scientific era with both excitement and fear, the law must find a way to adjust the new circumstances created by machines that can think. As we involve artificial intelligence more in our lives and try to learn about its legal implications, there will undoubtedly be changes needed to be applied.

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