Explaining the Punishment Gap of AI and Robots

Research paper by Gabriel Lima, Meeyoung Cha, Chihyung Jeon, Kyungsin Park

Indexed on: 17 Mar '20Published on: 13 Mar '20Published in: arXiv - Computer Science - Computers and Society


The European Parliament's proposal to create a new legal status for artificial intelligence (AI) and robots brought into focus the idea of electronic legal personhood. This discussion, however, is hugely controversial. While some scholars argue that the proposed status could contribute to the coherence of the legal system, others say that it is neither beneficial nor desirable. Notwithstanding this prospect, we conducted a survey (N=3315) to understand online users' perceptions of the legal personhood of AI and robots. We observed how the participants assigned responsibility, awareness, and punishment to AI, robots, humans, and various entities that could be held liable under existing doctrines. We also asked whether the participants thought that punishing electronic agents fulfills the same legal and social functions as human punishment. The results suggest that even though people do not assign any mental state to electronic agents and are not willing to grant AI and robots physical independence or assets, which are the prerequisites of criminal or civil liability, they do consider them responsible for their actions and worthy of punishment. The participants also did not think that punishment or liability of these entities would achieve the primary functions of punishment, leading to what we define as the punishment gap. Therefore, before we recognize electronic legal personhood, we must first discuss proper methods of satisfying the general population's demand for punishment.