Machine Ethics and Machine Law

I will be presenting the following paper at Machine Ethics and Machine Law,

November 2016

Property relations – Is property a person? Extending the Rights of Property Owners Through the Rights of Robotic Machines

Kathleen Richardson
Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility
De Montfort University


A small but vocal community in AI and robotics is calling for the recognition of the rights of machines, even suggesting that robots are slaves because they are used as instruments. I want to suggest that these scholars logic only make sense when you accept the formulations of slavery as presented by Aristotle in the Politics. Advocates of slavery confuse what it means to be a person or a thing, making persons into things (instruments) for exploitation, and things (robots and AI) into persons. While formal ideas of slavery have been abolished in Europe and North America, I want to suggest that the ideas presented by Aristotle are very much present in contemporary narratives of robotics and AI. I suggest what it at work is ‘property relations’ which encourages humans to think of themselves as property, to re-classify property (AI and robots) as types of persons.

Photo Credit: Léon Gérôme – Slave Market in Rome


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