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Thinktank kicks off robotic civil rights debate

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A wide-ranging government-sponsored futurology effort has fingered a campaign for robots' rights as a policy headache for 2056.

The conclusion comes from one of 270 papers commissioned by the Office of Science and Technology's Foresight Centre in a bid to anticipate the major social and technological trends of the next 50 years.

The heavyweight philosophical missive behind robots' rights is brought to you by Outsights, a management consultancy, and Ipsos MORI, the opinion poll organisation, the Financial Times reports. According to the authors: "If granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them, including income support, housing, and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time."

According to the report, would-be machine citizens shouldn't require a robotic Emmeline Pankhurst - they'll be given the vote. However, with rights come responsibilities, so the roboplebs will also be subject to Franklin's certainty principle: death and taxes, in the form of military service and income levies.

Explaining the research process, Outsights' Richard O Brien said: "In developing the scans, we have started by referencing leading authoritative sources of evidence on existing trends, but have also drawn on a range of alternative material." The "alternative material" in question includes journals, interviews with "leading thinkers" [you know who you are, Captain] and blogs.

The "Horizon Scan" is the brainchild of Sir David King, the government's chief scientific advisor. He said: "The scans look at what new issues may arise and what events may surprise us - and the possible implications for us individually and collectively."

Other, perhaps more prescient puzzlers covered by Foresight include energy policy, environmental meltdown, demographic change, and stem cell research. The exercise has already made an impact on policy making; the Health and Safety Executive has used its findings to support its cash claim for next year's Comprehensive Spending Review. ®

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