Human Rights vs. Robot Rights

Forecasts from Japan

Author: Jennifer Robertson


Japan continues to be in the vanguard of human – robot communication and, since 2007, the state has actively promoted the virtues of a robot-dependent society and lifestyle. Nationwide surveys suggest that Japanese citizens are more comfortable sharing living and working environments with robots than with foreign caretakers and migrant workers. As their population continues to shrink and age faster than in other postindustrial nation-states, Japanese are banking on the robotics industry to reinvigorate the economy and to preserve the country's alleged ethnic homogeneity. These initiatives are paralleled by a growing support among some roboticists and politicians to confer citizenship on robots. The Japanese state has a problematic record on human rights, especially toward ethnic minorities and non-Japanese residents who have lived and worked in Japan for many generations. The possibility of robots acquiring civil status ahead of flesh-and-blood humans raises profound questions about the nature of citizenship and human rights. Already the idea of robots having evolved beyond consideration as "property" and acquiring legal status as sentient beings with "rights" is shaping developments in artificial intelligence and robotics outside of Japan, including in the United States. What does the pursuit in Japan of interdependence between humans and robots forecast about new approaches to and configurations of civil society and attendant rights there and in other technologically advanced postindustrial societies?

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan
Topics: Human Rights

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December 2014
© Jennifer Robertson