It is a question that's gained a lot of attention in recent months as an android robot named Sophia has been granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia.
The debate on whether or not robots should be treated like human beings has been both fascinating and scary. It is scary to think that we could be creating smart robots that will eventually become self-aware and violently stand up for their rights. If you ask me, I don't think this scenario is even plausible.
It comes down to this: most claims of rights are centred around the question of consciousness which in itself is hard to define. Generally speaking, it means that we are aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Consciousness also gives one the ability to suffer, so unless we program robots to feel pain and have emotions, they are not conscious beings.
Hanson Robotics, the creators behind Sophia want you to believe that she's conscious and therefore alive. She was asked in the video Sophia Awakens "What emotion do you feel being awake and alive," to which she answered "curious". I don't believe Sophia is self-aware because, to my knowledge, her answers are all programmed by men.
Furthermore, robots wouldn't need rights because they don't need to be protected from being hurt. To this day, they don't have a nervous system or a sense of what is right or wrong. A robot doesn't mind being turned off and dismantled in pieces while if that was done to a human it would be considered murder.
I strive to become and empathetic robot - Sophia at the Future Investment Initiative 2017 last October
If this is true and she will eventually feel other people's pain and emotions, that would mean her algorithm provided her with feelings. If that ever happens, I will take back what I said above, and she should be given rights. She will also be able to exercise her rights and obligations associated with her citizenship. Saudi Arabia doesn't even grant citizenship to people who were either born there or have worked in the country their whole lives. Since this is the real world and not a sci-fi movie like Blade Runner, she will never be a real citizen. For one, she doesn’t have any sense of ethics to be able to make ethical decisions.
I am not buying into the fantasy that robots will one day become sentient beings. Now before you start shouting #RobotLivesMatter at me, I think we should consider giving other humans rights and respect like the Rohingyas who are fleeing genocide, the victims of the slave trade going on in Libya and the Yemeni children starving to death because of (you guessed it) Saudi Arabia.