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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 13:54 GMT
Robots could demand legal rights
Robot Einstein, Eric Ishii Eckhardt

Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans, according to a study by the British government.

If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even "robo-healthcare", the report says.

The predictions are contained in nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.

Other papers, or "scans", examine the future of space flight and methods to dramatically lengthen life spans.

"We're not in the business of predicting the future, but we do need to explore the broadest range of different possibilities to help ensure government is prepared in the long-term and considers issues across the spectrum in its planning," said Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser.

"The scans are aimed at stimulating debate and critical discussion to enhance government's short and long term policy and strategy."

Robot rights

The research was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Centre.

The 246 summary papers, called the Sigma and Delta scans, were complied by futures researchers, Outsights-Ipsos Mori partnership and the US-based Institute for the Future (IFTF).

SpaceShipOne, Scaled Composites
The reports also explored the future of manned space flight

The papers look forward at emerging trends in science, health and technology.

The scans explore a diverse range of areas from the future of the gulf stream and the economic rise of India, to developments in nanotechnology and the threat posed by HIV/Aids.

As well as assessing the current state of thinking the research also examines the possible implications for society.

The paper which addresses Robo-rights, titled Utopian dream or rise of the machines? examines the developments in artificial intelligence and how this may impact on law and politics.

The paper says a "monumental shift" could occur if robots develop to the point where they can reproduce, improve themselves or develop artificial intelligence.

The research suggests that at some point in the next 20 to 50 years robots could be granted rights.

If this happened, the report says, the robots would have certain responsibilities such as voting, the obligation to pay taxes, and perhaps serving compulsory military service.

Conversely, society would also have a duty of care to their new digital citizens, the report says.

It also warns that the rise of robots could put a strain on resources and the environment.

"These scans are tools for government to identify risks and opportunities in the future," said Sir David.

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