Hubbard proposes a test to be used "in answering an important question that has never received detailed jurisprudential analysis" -
What happens if a human artifact like a large computer system requests that it be treated as a person rather than as property?His Article responds that such an entity should be granted a legal right to personhood if it has the following capacities: (1) an ability to interact with its environment and to engage in complex thought and communication; (2) a sense of being a self with a concern for achieving its plan for its life; and (3) the ability to live in a community with other persons based on, at least, mutual self interest.
In order to develop and defend this test of personhood, the Article sketches the nature and basis of the liberal theory of personhood, reviews the reasons to grant or deny autonomy to an entity that passes the test, and discusses, in terms of existing and potential technology, the categories of artifacts that might be granted the legal right of self ownership under the test. Because of the speculative nature of the Article’s topic, it closes with a discussion of the treatment of intelligent artifacts in science fiction.He suggests that any artifact, including machine-based entities , is entitled to treatment as a person rather than as property if it possesses the requisite capacities, unless there is a very good reason to deny some or all the legal rights that normally go with personhood.
This normative argument is limited to the political or legal right to self ownership within a pluralist liberal polity. Concepts of moral personhood overlap with this topic, but the moral dimensions of personhood include a different, and in some ways more stringent and contentious, set of concerns.
Before addressing the test to be used in assessing the capacity for personhood, this Article starts in Part I by sketching two fundamental claims about humans and personhood: first, the claim that because humans, and only humans, generally have the capacity to think and plan as self-conscious beings at a high level, only humans are entitled to the right of being autonomous persons rather than property, and second, the liberal assertion that all fully functioning humans are equally entitled to this right. This discussion also develops the problems raised by degrees in the human capacity to exercise personhood and by charges of speciesism directed at the human treatment of higher-order animals.
Part II develops a test for determining whether an artificial entity satisfies the claim of being the equivalent of a human in terms of the capacities required for autonomous personhood and argues that an entity, like the machine system in the imaginary scenario above, that passes the test is entitled to be treated as a person. This discussion focuses on personhood in terms of autonomy and self ownership. Personhood in terms of more specific civil and political rights is also discussed, but a complete analysis of these topics is beyond the scope of this Article. Issues concerning the details and administration of the test of capacity are also not addressed. The final discussion in this part uses a technological perspective to analyze the types of human artifacts that might be entitled to the status of artificial personhood and addresses the issues of whether and how to limit or shape technological development so that artificial entities do not replace humans as the dominant species.
Part III uses science fiction as a way to consider the possible ways humans might relate to self-conscious artifacts capable of, and therefore entitled to, personhood. The conclusion argues that we should recognize the right of self ownership where the capacity test is met and to seek to develop some form of peaceful coexistence, particularly one which fosters the development of a shared political community.