In a great episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, Kate Darling, who is a researcher at the MIT Media lab makes a case to give robots legal rights — not because they experience something (there is every possibility that robots will evolve into highly intelligent beings without being conscious, and capable of having subjective experiences) — but rather to protect humans from themselves.
“If we have evidence that behaving violently towards very lifelike objects not only tells us something about you as a person but can also change people and desensitize them to that behavior in other contexts. So, you know, if you’re used to kicking a robot dog, you know, are you more likely to kick a real dog? Then that might actually be an argument, if that’s the case, to give robots certain legal protections the same way that we give animals protections but for a different reason.
We like to tell ourselves that we give animals protection from abuse because they actually experience pain and suffering. I actually don’t think that’s the only reason we do it. But for robots, the idea would be not that they experience anything, but rather that it’s desensitizing to us and it has a negative effect on our behavior to be abusive towards the robots.”
The idea is not to make more benevolent robots. The key is to become better humans — the kind that are repulsed by acts of cruelty, towards fellow humans and otherwise.