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Now is the time to figure out the rights of robots in the workplace

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Robots are predicted to serve in more meaningful roles within business and society than the basic manufacturing jobs, online customer service and order fulfillment they already handle. We may even begin to see AI-driven robots sitting in the seats of boards of directors at Fortune 500 companies or on a judge’s bench. An AI-based astronaut assistant, CIMON, is currently working on the International Space Station. In 2017, a European Parliament legal affairs committee recommended a resolution that envisions a special legal status of “electronic persons” to protect the most sophisticated automated robots, a political idea that remains controversial among politicians, scientists, business people and legal experts.

Considering the issues is an important step employers and employees must consider if our society hopes to achieve the singularity and symbiosis of machine integration into a workplace. In the next five to ten years, we’ll need an entirely new set of labor and employment laws affecting EEOC, unions, workplace violence, intellectual property, termination, downsizing and family leave, not to mention a new set of social and workplace norms and best practices.

Many may remember the hitchhiking robot that made headlines on its journey to cross the United States only to be destroyed two weeks into its journey in Philadelphia (the robot did successfully travel across Canada before its ultimate demise). Some of this abuse stems from tomfoolery, some stems from pure vandalism, and some may stem from fear. Regardless of the reasoning, the abuse raises concerns regarding humans’ ethics towards technology. As Peter W. Signer, a political scientist and the author of “Wired for War”, has said, “The rationale for robot ‘rights’ is not a question for 2076, it’s already a question for now.”

Andrew Sherman is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Seyfarth Shaw and the author of 26 books on business growth, capital formation and intellectual property. He is an expert on corporate governance and has served as general counsel to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) since 1987.

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