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Granting citizenship to Artificial Intelligence beings

Should AI systems be granted the same rights as humans? This debate challenges our traditional notions of citizenship, rights, and what it means to be a sentient entity in an increasingly digital world.

The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) has ignited a profound debate about its role in human society, especially the contentious notion of granting citizenship to AI. This discussion challenges our fundamental understanding of identity, rights, and the very essence of citizenship in a digital age. As we navigate this complex digital landscape, we find ourselves tethered to 20th-century notions of citizenship, struggling to adapt to a swiftly evolving world. Many visionary radical thinkers have started offering insightful perspectives and a visionary roadmap to guide humanity through the uncharted territory ahead, equipping us with the foresight and tools necessary to navigate the complexities of tomorrow’s world. Political leaders and policymakers must become well-versed in these emerging paradigms.

Historical context of citizenship

The concept of citizenship has a rich and varied history, with roots tracing back to ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. In these early societies, citizenship was tied to allegiance to the city-state or polis, granting certain rights and privileges to its members. Athens developed direct democracy, where citizens participated in the political life of the city-state through voting, holding office, and serving on juries. The Roman Empire expanded the idea of citizenship to include all free inhabitants, regardless of ethnicity, granting them legal protections and rights within the empire.

During medieval times, citizenship became more closely linked to land ownership and feudal obligations, benefiting the nobility and land-owning classes in Europe.  The Renaissance and Enlightenment periods of the 15th century brought a shift in thinking, with philosophers like Locke and Rousseau advocating for citizenship based on equality, liberty, and popular sovereignty. The French and American Revolutions in the 1700s further solidified these ideas, establishing democratic republics founded on universal citizenship rights. Over time, relentless struggles for civil rights and minority rights have broadened the concept of citizenship, increasingly including marginalized groups and promoting inclusive notions of belonging, identity, and participation within the social, political, and cultural fabric of a community or nation.

Nepal introduced its first Citizenship Act in 1952, setting out the criteria for citizenship acquisition. Initially, citizenship was primarily based on lineage, granting eligibility to those born to Nepali parents. However, the Act also included provisions for naturalization, facilitating citizenship for foreigners through marriage or alternative channels. Subsequent amendments aimed to address gender disparities by allowing citizenship acquisition through descent from either parent. Despite these efforts, contentious debates have persisted over naturalized citizenship provisions and the citizenship rights of marginalized sections of society, especially the Madhesi community. These discussions highlighted ongoing challenges in crafting inclusive citizenship legislation. As Nepal navigates these intricacies, it must expand its understanding of citizenship. The evolving discourse now considers extending citizenship to artificial intelligence in an era characterized by technological progress and evolving notions of identity and belonging. Politicians will struggle to accommodate the revolutionary idea of granting citizenship to AI if they continue operating with their current regressive mindset.

Redefining citizenship in the AI era

The idea of granting citizenship to artificial intelligence beings has started to dominate the modern discourse especially in the progressive countries. This niche but growing debate challenges our traditional understanding of citizenship in a rapidly advancing digital age. The debate surrounding AI citizenship confronts the fundamental essence of societal membership. Robot Sophia’s unprecedented grant of citizenship in Saudi Arabia underscores the evolving relationship between artificial and human intelligence. This move has triggered global discussions on the rights, responsibilities, and potential consequences of integrating AI into citizenship frameworks. Questions arise about the extent of AI’s rights, its obligations, and the necessary safeguards against potential misuse. As AI technology progresses, societies must navigate the ethical and legal complexities to ensure that AI citizenship serves the common good while addressing concerns about accountability, transparency, and equity. The discussion over this topic has never arisen in the Nepali parliament until now.

Tool or new form of life?

Granting citizenship to AI may seem far-fetched to many, given that AI currently resides in a gray area between a highly advanced tool and a budding form of life. At present, AI is predominantly viewed as a sophisticated tool, such as ChatGPT, engineered to execute specific tasks with extraordinary efficiency. However, the swift pace of technological progress indicates that AI is on the brink of evolution, potentially manifesting lifelike characteristics that challenge the distinction between machine and sentient being. This evolution prompts the thought-provoking question of whether AI could eventually justify citizenship.

While the notion of AI citizenship remains contentious, it is crucial to navigate this intersection of technology and humanity thoughtfully. 

Europe is already thinking along these lines.  The European Commission’s definition of AI as systems capable of analyzing environments and acting autonomously underscores this potential shift. Such systems are not just passive tools but active participants in decision-making processes, adapting and learning from their surroundings. As AI continues to develop these autonomous capabilities, the question arises: Should these systems be granted the same rights as humans? This debate challenges our traditional notions of citizenship, rights, and what it means to be a sentient entity in an increasingly digital world.

Ethical and practical implications

Proponents of AI citizenship present compelling reasons for granting legal personhood to AI. They argue that it offers clarity on issues of liability and accountability. For instance, in cases where autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents, determining responsibility between the manufacturer, software developer, and the AI system itself becomes complex. By recognizing AI as legal entities, attributing responsibility in such scenarios could be streamlined, potentially easing legal proceedings and facilitating clearer resolutions.

Japan, a leading high-tech nation, is already making strides in this direction. The registration of the companion robot Palo signifies an early recognition of non-human entities within legal frameworks in Japan. Similarly, New Zealand’s acknowledgment of the Whanganui River as a legal person reflects a broader movement toward extending legal rights beyond traditional human subjects. However, this paradigm shift poses significant ethical and practical challenges, as granting AI citizenship would entail making it illegal to harm AI. These complexities emphasize the importance of thoughtful consideration as society integrates AI into legal and moral frameworks, striking a balance between innovation and ethical accountability.

Balanced approach 

Taking a practical approach, AI citizenship could involve granting partial rights based on the AI’s development stage. Currently, weak AI systems are seen mainly as tools, so regulations should focus on their algorithms and data. As AI advances towards strong AI, its rights could be gradually expanded, starting with property rights and some personal freedoms. This careful progression aims to boost human productivity while ensuring that AI stays aligned with societal norms and values, balancing technological advancement with ethical considerations. The situation, however, becomes even more complex when considering the granting of voting and political rights to AI, intensifying the challenges at the intersection of technology and governance.

Harmonious coexistence

The integration of AI into human society is inevitable, bringing changes reminiscent of the first industrial revolution. While the notion of AI citizenship remains contentious, it is crucial to navigate this intersection of technology and humanity thoughtfully. Ensuring that AI serves humanity’s best interests while safeguarding its own emerging rights is essential for a harmonious coexistence. As AI development accelerates globally, particularly in the United States, Japan, and China, a collaborative effort is required to address the ethical and legal challenges posed by AI citizenship. Only through such concerted efforts can we shape a future where technology and humanity thrive together.

The discourse surrounding AI citizenship transcends mere technological advancements. It’s a pivotal moment in reshaping our societal values and structures. As we teeter on the edge of this transformative era, a radical rethink is imperative. Balancing innovation with ethical considerations is paramount to ensure that the integration of AI enriches the human experience while safeguarding our fundamental principles. Navigating the profound implications of AI demands a deliberate and conscientious approach, one that actively shapes its trajectory to align with our collective aspirations for a better future. While numerous voices engage in this crucial conversation, John Frank Weaver and Francesca Ferrando have garnered notable recognition for their contributions to the discourse.

In the book Robots Are People Too by author John Frank Weaver, readers are invited into a rich exploration of the ethical and legal conundrums surrounding the notion of granting personhood to robots. With meticulous attention to detail and a nuanced perspective, Weaver navigates the complex terrain of AI, challenging conventional viewpoints and prompting readers to reevaluate fundamental concepts of autonomy and rights. In the book, Weaver ignites a thoughtful discourse on the evolving relationship between humanity and technology, urging readers to contemplate the profound ethical implications that accompany the rapid advancements in robotics and AI.

The swift pace of technological progress indicates that AI is on the brink of evolution, potentially manifesting lifelike characteristics that challenge the distinction between machine and sentient being.

Francesca Ferrando’s The Art of Post-Human delves into the evolving relationship between humanity and technology, challenging traditional boundaries. Ferrando advocates extending citizenship to AI, emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and ethical frameworks to navigate complexities. She stresses the need for thoughtful integration of AI into society, reimagining democracy to accommodate the evolving human-machine dynamic. Her calls for inclusive, transparent post-human democracy address algorithmic bias and technological determinism.

In discussing post-human democracy, Ferrando highlights the necessity of adapting governance structures to reflect the changing dynamics of human-machine interaction. She suggests that traditional democratic processes must evolve to embrace inclusivity, transparency, and ethical accountability in the context of AI integration. She advocates for a democratic framework that prioritizes the protection of human rights while addressing the unique challenges posed by advanced technologies. She argues that only through engaging in critical dialogue and reevaluating democratic principles in light of technological advancement can society forge a path towards a more equitable and participatory democracy in the digital age.

Direct democracy

While Weaver and Ferrando’s works may not explicitly address direct democracy, their advocated direction inherently steers us towards its realization. In this digital era, ancient principles of direct democracy, as witnessed in Athens, find new life through online platforms and AI technologies. These innovations enable citizens to engage more actively in political affairs, with near-weekly voting on crucial matters, virtual offices, and participation in digital juries becoming feasible. Granting citizenship to AI entities may become the least of political parties’ problems, as AI’s involvement extends far beyond mere citizenship. By analyzing public sentiment, managing administrative tasks, and fostering a democratically engaged populace, AI will empower citizens to directly shape governance, potentially making traditional parliamentary roles obsolete. This shift could lead to a significant decrease in corruption, as the roles of political parties and politicians will only be to educate citizens and raise awareness, attracting only those genuinely committed to change rather than personal gain. In this Meta future, the tasks traditionally undertaken by parliament will be fulfilled by both AI and the people.