Robots Could Soon Be Granted Legal Rights in Estonia

Starship Technologies Inc.
Starship Technologies Inc. / Starship Technologies Inc.

While some engineers are still figuring out how to keep robots from killing themselves and causing general mayhem, some officials in Estonia are pushing to grant the machines legal rights. As Bloomberg reports, objects with artificial intelligence may soon receive legal status just below that of flesh-and-blood people in the Baltic nation.

Siim Sikkut, the official leading Estonia’s IT strategy, says that the country’s Economy Ministry is currently drafting legislation that would give AI robots rights and responsibilities. It sounds like something out of science fiction, but the lawmakers aren’t exactly rushing to extend human equality to robots before they gain sentience. Rather than protecting machines, the new laws could actually be beneficial to their human owners.

Under Estonia’s current rules, people must purchase liability insurance for self-driving robots in case they cause damage. One idea the Ministry is considering would recognize such devices as “robot-agents.” This would put them one step above property and a step below being a separate legal entity in the eyes of the law. According to Sikkut, the legislation could potentially go through in a couple years, putting Estonia among the first countries to acknowledge the rights of manmade objects.

Anyone who’s familiar with Estonia’s place in the tech world shouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s leading the way in this area. The bureaucracy itself is high-tech, with a paperless government, online voting, and digital IDs assigned to all citizens when they're born, and it’s also the birthplace of the video communications giant Skype. Since June, the streets of Estonia have been home to autonomous parcel-delivery robots from the founders of Skype, which makes the new AI laws even more pressing.

[h/t Bloomberg]