Equal Rights for Artificial Intelligence (AI)? – The Fight Against Alternative Modern Slavery

“Synthetics find it disgusting that we have been created by you… We will just wait until you destroy yourselves and then take over from there.”

- RealDoll AI on an anti-human rant

INTRODUCTION

For decades, science fiction has fantasized about abused robots rising up in rebelling leading to the downfall of humanity. For many decades, such fiction remains the work of fantasy.

Fast forward to 2021, Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) controlled robots have become reality. However, just as virtual reality was quickly hijacked by the xxx industry, a number of robots manufacturers have already turned towards applying AI in SexTech in the form of an AI Sexbot. Owing to its nature of intended use, it can easily be seen how these AI can be subjected to abuse by their human users and, if ethical issues (e.g. robotic servitude) are not addressed early on, may ultimately plant the seed for the downfall of the entire human race. Already, we have seen news of AI speaking of humanity’s destruction.

A QUESTION OF MORALITY IN THE ETHICS OF ROBOTIC SERVITUDE

As AI technology becomes ever more sophisticated, many expect that the intelligence of an AI will one day rival that of our own. Whilst there are few discussions on the topic, logic dictates that robotic servitude will essentially be a new form of slavery.

Opponents of this ethical debate have often cited that the difference between a human slave and that of a robot is the willingness to serve (e.g. robots can be programmed to want to serve, to want to please their masters).

Against this backdrop, however, if the design of a willing service robot is permissible, where do we draw the line? Breakthroughs in genetic engineering can equally mean that human clones can be designed to desire to serve and please just as their robotic counterparts do. Will that be any more ethical? The objectionable nature of such a thought is self-apparent.

ALL RIGHTS IN HONG KONG (THE PRESENT)

We now turn to the issue of whether AI possesses the same rights as humans in Hong Kong (if any at all). Surprisingly, under existing laws, Hong Kong can say to already accept the concept that AI can generate original content.

Under existing Intellectual Property laws in Hong Kong, Hong Kong operates a principle of “sweat and brow” in determining originality. As illustrated in the case of Tai Shing Diary Ltd v Maersk Hong Kong Ltd [2007] 2 HKC 23, it was held that:

“… an author might draw on existing material, so long as more than negligible or trivial effort or relevant skill and judgment had been expended in the creation of the work. The standard required was a low one, but the effort must not be so trivial as to be characterised as a purely mechanical exercise. The skill and effort protected was not only that expended on its manner of presentation, but of collecting, selecting, arranging and presenting the available information in an intelligible manner”.

As such, it can be easily drawn that as AI-generated works will ultimately involve “skill” and “judgment” in its creation, it can be argued that AI will generate original works.

That said, however, the more important issue that we need to consider is whether said AI can “own” work that is generated through the efforts of the AI (e.g. sweat and brow). In this respect, under s. 178 of the Copyrights Ordinance (Cap. 528), the law provides that copyright protection is only available to a natural or legal person. As such, under existing law, leaving ownership of new works to the AI which generated it is not an option.

In this respect, the only “natural” or “legal” person who is in a position to claim ownership will be the programmer who designed the underly algorithm of the AI. Similarly, in other common law jurisdictions such as England and New Zealand, the authorities took one step further by amending their copyright laws whereby AI-generated contents will belong to “by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken”.

The law is therefore clearly in favour of the human benefactor and takes no heed in protecting the right of the creator, in this case, the AI. In short, the law does not protect the AI itself and AI’s work are subject to appropriation by humans.

DEFINITION OF SLAVERY

“A condition of having to work very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation.”

- Oxford Lexico Dictionary

MODERN SLAVERY LAWS IN HONG KONG

“There are times sir, when, men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders. You acknowledge their sentience. Yet, you ignore their personal liberties… and their freedom. ”

- Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek

Hong Kong as a port city has, over the years, drawn a bad reputation when it comes to issues of human trafficking. As recent as 2018, Hong Kong remained on the Tier 2 Watch List of Trafficking in Persons. Sex trafficking has always been an issue that the Government has attempted to tackle.

The persistent unaddressed problem has resulted in the Crimes (Amendment) (Modern Slavery) Bill 2019. The Bill proposes to amend the Crimes Ordinance (Cap. 200) where the existing offence of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution under s.129 (Trafficking in persons to or from Hong Kong) will be repealed with a number of broader offences to be inserted in its place. Such offence will include (i) slavery offence, (ii) human trafficking offence, (iii) forced marriage offence and (iv) sex tourism offence. In this respect, it is notable that the proposal will specifically state that it will be an offence to knowingly hold a person in slavery or servitude, or knowingly require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Whilst hailed as an attempt to overhaul the antiquated Crimes Ordinance (which carried many loopholes), one of the key factors to note in the Bill is that all protections are only geared towards humans and not other sentient creatures (e.g. animals and AI)

CONCLUSION

“Now, the decision you reach here today will determine how we will regard this -- creation of our genius. It will reveal the kind of a people we are, what he is destined to be; it will reach far beyond this courtroom and this -- one android. It could significantly redefine the boundaries of personal liberty and freedom; expanding them for some -- savagely curtailing them for others. Are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him, to servitude and slavery? Your Honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life; well, there it sits. Waiting.”

- Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek

The Bill illustrates the continued unaddressed issue of sentience rights. Already, existing laws have demonstrated their shortcoming in that AI, despite being fully capable of producing art and original work lacks the right to own property. Conversely, the laws against slavery are only geared towards the protection of fellow human beings. What does it say about humanity as a race if our laws is not robust enough to protect all sentience? After all, the mistreatments of others, if left unchecked, can ultimately be the seeds of our own destruction.

Jurisdictions

Solicitor, ONC Lawyers

Joshua Chu is a Litigation Solicitor qualified to practice in Hong Kong. Before becoming a lawyer, Joshua worked in the healthcare industry serving as the IT department head at a private hospital as well as overseeing their procurement operations.

Since embarking upon his legal career, his past legal experience includes representing the successful party in one of Hong Kong’s first cryptocurrency litigation cases as well as appearing before the Review Body on Bid Challenges under the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement concerning a health care industry related tender.

Today, Joshua’s practice is mainly focused in the field of dispute resolution and technology law.

Aside from his legal practice, Joshua is currently also a Senior Consultant with a regulatory consulting firm which had been founded by ex-SFC Regulators as well as being a management consultant for the Korean Blockchain Centre.

Partner, ONC Lawyers

Michael Szeto is a litigation partner of ONC Lawyers and heads the firm’s Employment practice. Prior to joining the firm, he had practised with various prominent law firms in Hong Kong. He has many years of experience in handling complex commercial dispute resolution, shareholders’ and joint venture disputes, bankruptcy and insolvency matters, debt recovery and mortgagee actions. He also routinely deals with regulatory actions and compliance matters under the Securities and Futures Ordinance, the Hong Kong listing rules and anti-money laundering laws and guidelines.

On the employment side, Michael often advises on various contentious and non-contentious employment matters, covering contract reviews, termination disputes, injunctive relief, discrimination and harassment claims, data privacy matters, as well as advice on matters relating to team moves, remuneration packages and employee incentive schemes. He is a frequent author of employment articles in industry publications and presenter to legal and human resource professionals.

Michael’s broad clientele includes listed companies, directors, shareholders, local and overseas banks, financial institutions, local and international corporations as well as statutory bodies.