Robot Rights

Robot Rights

By David J. Gunkel

A provocative attempt to think about what was previously considered unthinkable: a serious philosophical case for the rights of robots.





A provocative attempt to think about what was previously considered unthinkable: a serious philosophical case for the rights of robots.

We are in the midst of a robot invasion, as devices of different configurations and capabilities slowly but surely come to take up increasingly important positions in everyday social reality—self-driving vehicles, recommendation algorithms, machine learning decision making systems, and social robots of various forms and functions. Although considerable attention has already been devoted to the subject of robots and responsibility, the question concerning the social status of these artifacts has been largely overlooked. In this book, David Gunkel offers a provocative attempt to think about what has been previously regarded as unthinkable: whether and to what extent robots and other technological artifacts of our own making can and should have any claim to moral and legal standing.

In his analysis, Gunkel invokes the philosophical distinction (developed by David Hume) between “is” and “ought” in order to evaluate and analyze the different arguments regarding the question of robot rights. In the course of his examination, Gunkel finds that none of the existing positions or proposals hold up under scrutiny. In response to this, he then offers an innovative alternative proposal that effectively flips the script on the is/ought problem by introducing another, altogether different way to conceptualize the social situation of robots and the opportunities and challenges they present to existing moral and legal systems.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262038621 256 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 b&w illus.


  • Robot Rights is a compelling read. It dives deeply into philosophy from the very start, but it's accessible and well structured, and useful and informative for anyone interested in the social impact of emerging technologies.


  • ...a brilliantly, disorienting book.

    Daily Telegraph

  • Robot Rights is a crucial innovation in the way we think about our proper place in the world and relationships with entities of our own making.

    LSE Review of Books

  • Gunkel elegantly deals with how and whether we can understand human rights so as to apply them to nonhuman entities, particularly automata. [... ] [A] keen investigation into whether automata could have rights much like humans.

    Human Rights Watch


  • “Robots are a new kind of entity, not quite alive and yet something more than machines. Gunkel's book dissects the question of whether robots should have rights from every angle, setting the stage for what may become the most important ethical debate of this century.”

    Tony Prescott

    Professor of Cognitive Robotics, University of Sheffield

  • "If the report of the European Parliament only considered legal consequences of the development of robotics, Mr. Gunkel draws an accurate picture of the impact of the expansion of robots in our social relationships. Going beyond usual stereotypes of science fiction, this book is a deep reflection on how we want to shape our future, which place we want to assign to robots and how we want to deal with them in our daily lives. It is not simply about what kind of robots we want in our society but also about what kind of human we want to be."

    Mady Delvaux-Stehres

    Luxemburgish S&D Member of the European Parliament