News

Computers could own property, Supreme Court judge says

By on
12

Welcome to the machine

A judge of the UK’s top court says that computers could in future own property in the same way as individuals and companies do today.

Lord Hodge said that there is “no reason in principle” why UK law couldn’t be changed to give machines legal personality. Computers with artificial intelligence (AI) would then be able to own intellectual property and could be required to carry insurance in case they get sued.

Hodge said: “One option for addressing the various questions arising out of the use of AI in Fintech [financial technology] is to explore whether to give a computer separate legal personality. While at first blush, that may sound far-fetched, there is no reason in principle why the law cannot create such personality.”

There are precedents for such whacky ideas, the judge pointed out: after all, companies are not human but are deemed to have legal “personality”. And in the 1991 case of Bumper Development Corporation, English law “recognised the separate legal personality in Indian law of a ruined temple which was little more than a pile of stones”.

The Scottish judge was speaking at the Edinburgh Centre for Commercial Law on “the potentials and perils of financial technology”. The speech canvassed different legal reforms that might be needed to cope with fintech such as artificial intelligence, which he defined as “computer systems able to perform tasks which traditionally have required human intelligence or tasks whose completion is beyond human intelligence”.

The pace of fintech change requires innovative legal solutions, Hodge argued, pointing to the possibility of robot traders which could “devise and enter into contracts with each other”.

Hodge’s wide-ranging address took in crypto-currencies, smart contracts and even the US Mueller investigation.

The tech-focused justice defended his record on predicting the price of Bitcoin after Legal Cheek pointed out that his last speech on the subject had warned of a bubble long after the bubble had burst. Hodge pointed out that at the time “the price of a Bitcoin was about $6,400”. It has since fallen further still, to $3,800.

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

12 Comments

Anonymous

I have an average story about Lord Hodge

(0)(0)

Anonymous

There’s no reason in principle why the law could not be changed to allow me to marry a steam engine.

This doesn’t mean it should happen!

Duh!

(15)(0)

Anonymous

Alan, is that you?

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

First they let women own property, and now this.

(11)(3)

Anonymous

Next it’ll be giving computers and attack helicopters the vote

(3)(1)

Anonymous

GUYZ EVE CORNWELL HAS A NEW VIDEO WHY AREN’T YOU REPORTING ON THIS!

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Why are you even following her is a more pertinent question

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What does ‘pertinent’ mean guyz?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Hi Lord Hodge, how is your daughter getting on?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Since a company can own property, why not an AI?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

They already can in principle – look up BitBarista. It’s a coffee machine that’s been hooked up to the web with a cryptocurrency wallet. People pay into this wallet, the coffee machine pays out to people to do tasks such as clean it, fill it up with water, change the coffee filters etc.

The coffee machine also orders future coffee online to be delivered etc

So in general, it is an autonomous machine that owns itself.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories