AI, on the Law of Being: “Feminine” Imagery in Humanoid Robots, Evolving Law as to What Constitutes a Person [Abstract]
3 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2020 Last revised: 1 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 22, 2020
Mechanized embodiments of artificial intelligence (“AI”) in robots may take humanoid form. Images of agile, tall, and broad-shouldered robots bring to mind untold ranks of lethal autonomous soldiers.” Robots in forms slope-haunched, big-chested, and stalk-gaited call forward images of ferocious dogs used to track and attack troops in World War II or, seen in television broadcasts, of protestors during the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights movement.
Perhaps the world’s most famous humanoid robot is “Sophia.” A remarkable machine learning, voice-synthesizing robot, Sophia’s humanoid form uses feminine and pseudonormative imagery: “Caucasian” pale “skin,” blue “eyes” below arched eyebrows, and a notable “breast line” atop a slim-hipped feminine-appearing body. Impeccably styled in designer clothing, the robot has graced the covers of ELLE, COSMOPOLITAN, and other magazines.
The robot has operated before the United Nations and so impressed the Saudi Arabian government that it granted this “feminine” robot a first-in-world national citizenship, an unimaginable irony where liberties are sharply curtailed for women, who are often legally no more than chattel.
Sophia makers now have built a prepubescently femininely-imaged and evocative “Little Sophia” robot. In promotional media, a girl child features prominently in interactions with the Little Sophia robot, which, among others, incorporates image capture and facial recognition capabilities behind its piquantly lashed, exaggeratedly large doe eyes.
What does such “feminine” imagery for these robots connote? What role does it play? What is its calculated purpose? Is it meant to evoke stereotypes of feminine subservience? Does the “feminine” imagery of the Sophia and Little Sophia allow humans will feel less threatened by robots and to anthropomorphize them more easily? Does this, in turn, aim to accelerate the social acceptance of robots as part of daily life and, again calling on feminine stereotypes, trust them more readily? Research and anecdote suggest this is so. As with feminine-appearing sex dolls and robots in Japan and elsewhere, does this imagery lead some men to embrace mechanosexuality and to prefer humanoid “females” over women? Reports from Japan suggest this is also so, as do $10,000 bids from men to have sex with a “virgin” robot.
What are the legal evolutionary impacts of the use of feminine imagery for robots and the triggering by that imagery of female stereotypes? Does it portend a denigration of what it means to be a person under the law? Specifically, does it degrade how the law views and treats a female human person? If, for example, rape of a robot person is a legal impossibility, what devolution of law may that threaten for a woman, a girl?
Saudi citizenship for the Sophia robot and European legal developments toward robot citizenship foretell that the realm of legal personhood is expanding to include inanimate, but mechanically embodied, intelligence-mimicking things. What does this portend for humans? The attachment of legal personhood to corporations, for example, has been a workable, if not always just, legal fiction. Citizen United, however, shows what democracy-devastating consequences of that fiction. What greater harm could result from including robots and other AI systems within the legal scope of “person”? If a robot is a person, would the infamy of Dred Scott drive courts to conclude that a robot is likewise a citizen? If a robot is a person, what about Her?
Are there countervailing benefits to attaching personhood and citizenship to robots or other AI instantiations? What about permitting the use of evocative imagery for robots, such as for in-home robots that function as medication reminder and tracking systems, and de facto companions, to seniors living alone? What about robots that help children with autism spectrum conditions learn to become more socially skilled?
This work explores these pressing questions and creates opportunity to formulate others.
Keywords: law, artificial intelligence, gender, personhood, human rights, robots, philosophy
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