“An American billionaire leaves all her inheritance to her robot”; “A young man from Stuttgart files a complaint with the City Council because he wants to marry the accompanying robot that he says is” deeply in love “… These are two false headlines today, but … could they come true?
The robots are gradually gaining autonomy and can do more things for themselves. They can learn, which makes their decisions vary as they evolve and make them a little more unpredictable. The autonomy of the robots, in any case, is technological and programmed (although this may seem like an oxymoron).
Currently, robots are not people, nor can they be, and many things would have to be changed so that they were. One of them is the Law and what refers to the concept of personality.
Personality and legal capacity
All-natural persons – like you and I – acquire character and legal capacity “at the time of birth alive, once the entire detachment of the mother’s womb has occurred” ( art. 30 of the Civil Code ). This personality enables us to the beholder of rights and obligations. No matter whether the individual is rich or poor, very smart or very dumb, morally delectable, or a saint.
Every person is a person: a baby who has been with us one day, someone who is in a coma in a hospital or with severe psychiatric disorders, the CEO of Apple and the last Nobel Prize in Medicine. And this is because there is a dignity that is common to all types of people and from which the personality derives.
A different issue is the so-called “capacity to act” that serves to exercise one’s rights by oneself and fulfill the obligations of which he is the owner.
Ability to work
The reasons why a person lacks the full capacity to act are “persistent diseases or deficiencies of a physical or psychic nature that prevent the person from governing himself” (Article 200 of the Civil Code). Or even a baby who has inherited from his deceased parents will need a guardian who will be in charge of managing the estate until he has full capacity to act when he turns 18.
This ability to act legally is linked to self-government – to autonomy – and that is because all the measures taken when someone cannot govern themselves are to protect him. Robots are not people because they do not have the dignity of people and they cannot act legally, although, through training, they can be increasingly autonomous.
Some dream of robots that act for themselves, make their own decisions and behave like people, defending that they should be given a personality.
The argument they rely on is that of independence. But let’s not forget that independence is not the basis of personality or legal capacity that is based on dignity. The argument seems to be tremendously dangerous because if you defend giving character to a robot for its autonomy, would this imply denying the personality to people who do not have the autonomy, self-government?
On the other hand, let’s see what this would mean if, for example, the robot causes some damage due to the abnormal operation or proper functioning … Both things can happen.
The victim would have to sue the robot (if it had personality) that it would have the passive legitimation that is the ability to be sued in a trial, (it must be remembered that a dog is not sued if it bites someone, but its owner precisely because the dog has no personality).
The robot, or whoever represented it, would have to defend its positions and, in case it had to face compensation, it would do so with its assets. This would probably be himself: the robot would be the subject of the property right and the object of it, as it would own itself. Could the robot be seized and auctioned to meet its debts? In that case, would he cease to be a person to become an object, as if he were a slave?
Another reason for wanting to provide robots with some personality would be to limit their responsibility, such as when “one ship, one company” has been said in maritime law.
In these cases it is that, if a ship causes damage, its owner (the company) is solely responsible for the damage, thus trying to ensure that the sole asset of the company is the ship. In this way, a ship could never face a debt greater than its value.
As you can see, it is a form of limitation of the responsibility that leads jurists to have to resort to the doctrine of lifting the veil to find out who is behind that “screen” company that is used as a veil.
Fortunately, today, robots are not people, they do not have the necessary budgets to be a person and the consequences of their being could be a clear abuse, for example, due to the limitation of liability that would entail.