Star Wars and the quest for robot rights

We, robots: L3-37 has been described as “the first woke bot of Star Wars”.

Should robots be treated like humans? Solo: A Star Wars Story features a droid who feels emotions and demands “rights”. The concept of “robot rights” is becoming increasingly important.

What’s happening

The new Star Wars film may be about the human Han Solo, but its real star is a sassy female robot. L3-37 is a top pilot, but she also has self-awareness, feels love, and gets angry when other robots are mistreated. In one scene, when asked if she needs anything, she replies: “Equal rights.”

Find out more

Until now, robots in Star Wars films were basically slaves. They were barred from certain places, and other characters bought, sold and destroyed them at will.

In real life too, we tend to see machines as things that only exist to help us. As artificial intelligence advances, however, people are asking whether they may one day experience exactly the same things as humans — and how we should treat them if they do.

People already feel empathy for some machines. In one study, people refused to beat small robots to “death”. Like Star Wars, recent TV shows Westworld and Black Mirror look at the ethics of hurting and abusing humanlike bots.

Such robots are still a long way off. If they become a reality, should they get the same rights as humans?

Some say…

No. Even if they act all clever and emotional, robots will still just be objects, created by us. They will never have the consciousness that makes humans so unique. Sadly, many people are still mistreated in our world. We should focus on spreading human rights — then animals rights — rather than be tricked into feeling sorry for machines.

Others think…

Wrong. We only think we are unique because we do not yet understand our own brains. One day, we will realise that they are basically just machines too. If robots can feel real love and pain, they should be allowed to marry and be protected from harm. If we do not give them those rights, how can we expect to treat each other with respect?

You Decide

  1. If you were told to destroy a humanlike robot, would you do it?

Activities

  1. Write a list of things that a robot would need to have before being considered “humanlike”. (For example, must it be able to experience physical pain?) Share your answers with the class.

Some People Say...

“A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God.”

Alan Perlis

What do you think?

Word Watch

Sassy
Cheeky, full of character.
Self-awareness
When someone knows that they are conscious (see below), they are “self-aware”.
Empathy
The ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings.
Ethics
The moral rules that people follow in order to have a good life and benefit society.
Consciousness
When someone is aware of their own body and environment, they are “conscious”.

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