Should we stop a company from unplugging a conscious computer? That is what a question from the conscious machines section of Ray Kurzweil's site. Here is what they did to test the legality of the issue.
Attorney Dr. Martine Rothblatt filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent a corporation from disconnecting an intelligent computer in a mock trial at the International Bar Association conference in San Francisco, Sept. 16, 2003. The issue could arise in a real court within the next few decades, as computers achieve or exceed the information processing capability of the human mind and the boundary between human and machine becomes increasingly blurred.
Many people disagree about whether or not conscious machines will arise. I think they will, though they won't be like humans. (We conquered flight, but airplanes don't work exactly like birds – I think consciousness may turn out the same way) I am not so much worried about the legal issues involved in whether or not machines have rights. I am concerned about the outcry when the robots begin to replace housekeepers, clerks, security guards, and other low wage jobs.
Rodney Brooks of MIT's AI Lab thinks robots will never surpass humans totally, because we will upgrade ourselves with neurochips to stay one step ahead. But the poor will not have access to such chips, and will be the first to be rendered useless to society (from an economic perspective). I think this dilemma is a perfect example of why future business leaders need to study more than just accounting, finance and marketing. People sometimes say that philosophy, ethics and psychology aren't necessary in this day and age, but I think we need them more than ever.