Do Androids Dream of Legal Rights?

Morgan Broman (Queensland University Technology)


I recently participated in the QUT & LLHAA sponsored conference Deus Ex Machina held at the QUT Brisbane campus between the 12th -14th of December 2023. The event theme was law, technology, and humanities. The conference offered a series of interesting streams, but I have chosen to write here about the one that I was a part of – ‘Jurisprudence of the Future: Speculative Subjects and Fantastic Personhood’ as it is linked to my PhD research and the RaiLE© Project that I lead.

There were four of us presenting during the session, first out was Chris Dent whose presentation was called ‘There is No “I” in Law: The Past and Future of Legal Authority and Subjects’. He began by talking briefly about changes in the “source” and “subject” of law from the medieval period to now. Then he challenged the concept that Science Fiction (SF) can predict or predicate future legal development as all current science fiction is still rooted in ‘the classic liberal model that was formed in the nineteenth century’ (quote from Deus Ex Machina program). He then went on to provide a number of examples from SF literature, movies etc. and explained how, in his opinion, their views are linked to the old-fashioned classic liberal model.

Quinn Edwards presented ‘Digital Monsters to Digital Persons: A Cultural Legal Analysis of the Bundle Theory of Personhood’. He presented a model for research in which he intends to engage in a cultural legal analysis of ‘bundle theory’, by VAJ Kurki (2019), in relation to legal personhood. He proposed a reading of legal theory by analogue use of the Japanese anime Digimon Adventure (2020). He presented an introduction to the subject matter using the analogue of the Digimon monster’s development from ‘animalistic thoughtless servants to complex, intellectual characters, aligning with the layered attribution of personhood’, making the bundle theory more adaptable than orthodox accounts of personhood.

Jeffrey Thomas presented ‘Humans? Artificial Intelligence as Depicted in the UK television series “Humans”’. Based on this he explored the risks, legal issues, and regulation of artificial intelligence in a near-future world very similar to our own. By use of the TV series near-future world he explored the difference in human behavior in regard to interaction with a sentient AI placed in a synthesized body, looking exactly like a human and an AI housed in a computer and lacking a body-like housing.

My reflections on these presentations were first that they were all thought-provoking and second, they all deserve serious contemplation, whether one agrees with their provided conclusion or not. Most importantly of all I realized that they all had bearing on the subject matter of my own presentation, done in conjunction with Pamela Finckenberg-Broman and Susan Bird – ‘Avatars, Cyberconjunctions & Legal personhood’. In particular Kurki’s ‘bundle theory’ is useful as we reference SF literature and movies, we draw models from MMO avatars and put them in perspective of digital twins of/for humans’ ability to interact in cyberspace and with the real world.


Reference: VAJ Kurki, A Theory of Legal Personhood (Oxford University Press, 2019)