Friends, Robots, Citizens?




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This paper asks whether and how an artefact, such as a robot, could be considered a citizen. In doing so, it approaches questions of political freedom and artefacts. Three key notions emerge in the discussion: discursivity, embodiment and recognition. Overall, discussion of robot citizenship raises technical, political and philosophical problems.

Whereas machine intelligence is hotly debated, machine citizenship is less so. However, much research and activity is underway that seeks to create robot companions, capable of meaningful and intimate relationships with humans. The EU flagship "Robot Companions for Citizens" project aims for " ecology of sentient machines that will help and assist humans in the broadest possible sense to support and sustain our welfare."

This is a broad and ambitious aim, with a goal of making artefacts that can have genuine relationships with humans. This being so, in order to avoid merely creating highly interactive automata, the status of the robot must be carefully considered. Without significant public freedoms, for instance, the notion of a robot 'friend' would be a dubious one -- as dubious as the notion of a 'willing slave', for instance. In a broad sense, these issues relate to the politics of robot kinship and sociality, perhaps specifically to civic epistemology. With a technological ideal of genuine human-artefactual kinship in the future, these political questions cannot be ignored. One approach to this problematic involves accounting for the robot citizen.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


Philosophy, Robots, Society, Public policy, Ethics


Rainey, S. (2015) Friends, Robots, Citizens? ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society - Special Issue on Ethicomp, 45 (3), ACM New York, NY, USA, September 2015, pp. 225-233


Research Institute