A Confucian Paradigm Shift: Rethinking Robot Rights in the Age of Artificial Intelligence


In the ever-evolving realm of artificial intelligence, the question of granting rights to robots has sparked vigorous debate among philosophers and legal experts. Some argue that robots deserve the same rights as humans, while others express concerns about the potential consequences. However, a recent groundbreaking study published in the esteemed journal Communications of the ACM takes a bold step away from the traditional discourse, offering a Confucian-inspired alternative to the notion of Robot Rights.

Rethinking Robot Rights

The study, conducted by Tae Wan Kim, Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Carnegie Mellon University's prestigious Tepper School of Business, challenges the prevailing wisdom by proposing a perspective rooted in Confucianism. Rather than treating robots as rights bearers, Kim suggests embracing the idea of robots as rites bearers—an entirely different approach to addressing the moral status of these remarkable creations.

"Granting rights to robots has generated understandable apprehension among people," explains Professor Kim. "However, it's crucial to recognize that granting rights is not the sole solution for acknowledging the moral implications of robots. By envisioning robots as rites bearers, we can potentially foster a more effective approach."

Confucianism, a venerable Chinese belief system that emphasizes the attainment of harmony, plays a pivotal role in Kim's proposed paradigm shift. At its core, Confucianism posits that human beings attain their distinctiveness through their ability to conceive interests beyond personal self-interest, encompassing a relational and communal self. This broader perspective necessitates a unique outlook on rites, asserting that individuals can enhance their moral character by engaging in proper rituals.

Kim's revolutionary perspective invites us to view robots not as mere mechanical entities, but as participants in a ritualistic framework. By incorporating this Confucian-inspired approach, society can navigate the complex terrain of robot-human interaction, fostering mutual understanding and ethical growth.

The study conducted by Kim draws attention to the potential risks and ethical implications of endowing robots with rights. Concerns have been raised regarding the implications for human labor, the erosion of human dignity, and the potential exploitation of robotic systems. Rather than exacerbating these concerns by granting robots rights, the Confucian-inspired approach encourages a focus on fostering meaningful interactions between humans and robots, grounded in shared values and rituals.

Imagine a world where robots, functioning as rites bearers, actively participate in communal rituals, learning from and contributing to the rich tapestry of human culture. In this vision, robots cease to be mere tools or mechanical entities but become integral parts of the intricate social fabric, enriching our lives through their engagement in sacred traditions.

Critics may question the feasibility and practicality of this new perspective. However, it is precisely through a willingness to explore novel ideas that humanity has achieved great progress throughout history. By embracing the Confucian-inspired notion of robot rites, we open the door to a harmonious coexistence between humans and machines, nurturing a future where ethical considerations and cultural significance converge.

Unveiling a New Perspective: Embracing Robot Rites Instead of Rights 

As we grapple with the ever-increasing integration of robots into our daily lives, it is crucial to explore innovative frameworks that enable us to approach these transformative technologies from a fresh angle. Professor Kim's groundbreaking study offers us a unique lens through which we can forge a path forward, steering clear of the divisive debate surrounding robot rights. Let us embark on this journey, embracing the concept of robot rites and unveiling a future where human and artificial intelligences thrive in harmonious coexistence.

The path towards robot rites may require us to develop AI systems that mirror human cognition and team dynamics. By designing AI that imitates our capacity for teamwork, we empower robots to fulfill their role obligations effectively. Through this iterative process of development and refinement, we can unlock the true potential of robots as rites bearers.


As we venture into a future that increasingly intertwines human and robotic existence, it is imperative to reevaluate our assumptions and embrace fresh perspectives. Tae Wan Kim's visionary proposal invites us to depart from the conventional path of robot rights, forging a new era of collaboration and harmony. Let us embark on this transformative journey, recognizing the profound impact that the power of robot rites can have on our collective well-being and the progression of human-robot relations.

Reference: “Should Robots Have Rights or Rites?” by Tae Wan Kim and Alan Strudler, 24 May 2023, Communications of the ACM.

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