Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Mia Tramz for TIME
Ideas
September 11, 2015 1:34 PM EDT

Robots might share our rights if they functioned as our intelligent and independent agents. (“Siri, tell TIME what I think.”)

They would need protective rights of their own only if they came to share our sensibilities: a right not to be tortured, perhaps. But should a sentient robot also share our right to free speech, or is that a right conferred only on members of our political community in order to preserve a prescribed relationship between community members and the government? Might a sentient robot even share our political rights, including the right to vote? If not, technology might create a slave class, the stuff of dystopian science fiction.

But if so, could robot manufacturers control our political destiny by controlling production of new voters? The ACLU of the future may have to define what it means to be a person in order to fulfill its mission of “defending everybody.”

Herman is president of the American Civil Liberties Union

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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