James Boyle of Duke Law School has written a nice paper on the issues around constitutional personhood for artificial intelligence. You’ll recall Lawrence Solum’s wonderful North Carolina Law Review article on AI and legal personhood from 1992. Solum was interested in whether soft AI might meet the technical requirements of a legal entity such as the executor of a trust. Boyle’s argument is more (too?) ambitious. Here’s an excerpt:
My point is a simple one. In the coming century, it is overwhelmingly likely that constitutional law will have to classify artificially created entities that have some but not all of the attributes we associate with human beings. They may look like human beings, but have a genome that is very different. Conversely, they may look very different, while genomic analysis reveals almost perfect genetic similarity. … How will, and how should, constitutional law meet these challenges?
I confess I am one of the “skeptics” Boyle refers to that “point to a history of overconfident predictions that the [AI] breakthrough was just around the corner.” We’ve been doing AI since that terms was coined at my alma matter in the 1950s and, as Mary-Anne Williams put it to me succinctly, robots today are about as smart as insects.
Boyle was specifically asked to write about the future. And he includes biologic possibilities that may be around an earlier corner. Either way, the paper is worth a read. (Hat tip to Gabe and Mike.)