Not Quite Like Us? Can Cyborgs and Intelligent Machines Be Natural Persons as a Matter of Law?

43 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2022 Last revised: 20 Mar 2023

See all articles by Daniel J. Gervais

Daniel J. Gervais

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: March 20, 2023


The ability of AI machines to perform intellectual functions long associated with human higher mental faculties is unprecedented, for it is precisely those functions that have separated humans from all other species. AI machines can now emulate our form of sapience, produce literary and artistic content and even express feelings and emotions. Calls for “robot rights” are getting louder. Using a transdisciplinary methodology, including philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, linguistics and neuroscience, this Essay aims to situates the difference in law between human and machine in a way that a court of law could operationalize. This is not a purely theoretical exercise. Courts have already started to make that distinction and making it correctly will likely become gradually more important, as humans become more like machines (cyborgs, cobots) and machines more like humans (neural networks, robots with biological material). The Essay draws a line that separates human and machine using the way in which humans think, a way that machines may mimic and possibly emulate but are unlikely ever to make their own.

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, sapience, neuroscience, triune brain, constructivism, philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, linguistics, rationality

JEL Classification: K10, K39

Suggested Citation

Gervais, Daniel J., Not Quite Like Us? Can Cyborgs and Intelligent Machines Be Natural Persons as a Matter of Law? (March 20, 2023). Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 22-32, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Gervais (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615 322 2615 (Phone)

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