From Legal AI Personhood to Selfish Memes
Roman V. Yampolskiy
Computer Engineering and Computer Science
University of Louisville
It is possible to rely on current corporate law to grant legal personhood to Artificially Intelligent
(AI) agents. In this paper, after introducing pathways to AI personhood, we analyze consequences
of such AI empowerment on human dignity, human safety and AI rights. We emphasize possibility
of creating selfish memes and legal system hacking in the context of artificial entities. Finally, we
consider some potential solutions for addressing described problems.
Keywords: AI Personhood, Litigation Attack, Malevolent Corporation, Selfish Meme, Zero-
“The Machine is not an it to be animated, worshiped, and dominated.
The machine is us, our process, an aspect of our embodiment.
We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us.
We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.”- Donna Haraway
1. Introduction to AI Personhood
Debates about rights are frequently framed around the concept of legal personhood, which is
granted not just to human beings but also to some non-human entities, such as firms, corporations
or governments. Legal entities, aka legal persons are granted certain privileges and responsibilities
by the jurisdictions in which they are recognized, and many such rights are not available to non-
person agents. Attempting to secure legal personhood is often seen as a potential pathway to get
certain rights and protections for animals , fetuses , trees, rivers  and artificially intelligent
(AI) agents . It is commonly believed that a court ruling or a legislative action is necessary to
grant personhood to a new type of entity, but recent legal literature [5-8] suggests that loopholes
in the current law may permit granting of legal personhood to currently existing AI/software
without having to change the law or persuade any court.
LoPucki  in his paper on Algorithmic Entities cites Bayern [7, 8] and his work on conferring
legal personhood on AI by putting it in charge of LLC
. “Professor Shawn Bayern demonstrated
“Bayern specifies this chain of events as capable of establishing the link: (1) [A]n individual member creates a
member-managed LLC, filing the appropriate paperwork with the state; (2) the individual (along, possibly, with the
LLC, which is controlled by the sole member) enters into an operating agreement governing the conduct of the LLC;
(3) the operating agreement specifies that the LLC will take actions as determined by an autonomous system,
that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm merely by putting
it in control of a limited liability company (LLC). The algorithm can exercise the rights of the
entity, making them effectively rights of the algorithm. The rights of such an algorithmic entity
(AE) would include the rights to privacy, to own property, to enter into contracts, to be represented
by counsel, to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, to equal protection of the laws, to
speak freely, and perhaps even to spend money on political campaigns. Once an algorithm had
such rights, Bayern observed, it would also have the power to confer equivalent rights on other
algorithms by forming additional entities and putting those algorithms in control of them.”
Other legal pathways to obtain legal personhood have been suggested and analyzed in the literature
[4-12], but details of such legal “hacking” are beyond the scope of this paper. We are simply
interested in understanding the impact of granting personhood to AI on human dignity  and
safety. With appearance of decentralized autonomous organizations , such as the DAO ,
these questions are as pressing as ever.
2. Selfish Memes
In his book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins  talks about genes as the driving payload behind
evolution, with animal bodies as vehicles for the gene to accomplish its goals in the world. He also
introduced a new concept of a meme, or viral idea competing for dominance in human minds,
inspired by the similarities between natural and cultural evolution. Advent of algorithmic entities
would make it possible to explicitly add a memetic payload to a legal entity, resulting in what we
will call the Selfish Meme. Corporations are selfish entities with the goal of maximizing
shareholder profit, with AI in charge of such an entity any idea can be codified in an algorithm and
added as the driving force behind the corporation’s decision making. At a higher level of
abstraction this could produce selfish cryptocurrencies.
We already see something similar from B-corps or for Benefit Corporations, which attempt to
create some social good in addition to profit. However, such memetic payload doesn’t have to be
strictly beneficial, in practice it could be any ideology, set of beliefs or values. For example, it
would be possible to codify tenants of a particular religion (ex. Islam), economic philosophy
(communism), moral theory (Utilitarianism) or something silly but potentially dangerous like a
Paperclip Maximizer  or Pepe meme , encode them in an algorithm and put that algorithm
in charge of a corporation, which could eventually take over the world and inforce its memetic
payload on the world. Via orthogonality thesis  we can see that few if any limitations exists
on the potential memetic payload, it could be a marketing campaign, an uploaded animal or human
mind, our constitution and the complete set of laws or a computer virus. Evolutionary competition
would appear between such entities leading to adversarial practices  and perhaps hostile
takeovers not just in a legal but also in a computer science sense, with hacking and replacement of
corporation’s selfish meme with another payload, being a real possibility. We live in the world
where computer viruses may have rights. It would also not be surprising if establishment of
specifying terms or conditions as appropriate to achieve the autonomous system’s legal goals; (4) the sole member
withdraws from the LLC, leaving the LLC without any members. The result is potentially a perpetual LLC—a new
legal person—that requires no ongoing intervention from any preexisting legal person in order to maintain its status.
AEs would not be confined to cyberspace. An AE could act offline by contracting online with humans or robots for
offline services. Bayern uses an algorithm that operates a Bitcoin vending machine business to illustrate.”
See original article for footnotes, which have been removed to improve readability of quotes.
corporations with custom memetic payload become available as a service. Such corporations may
also attempt to gain membership in different organizations and partnerships for example the
recently formed Partnership on AI
, in order to influence it from within.
3. Human Indignity
The process for getting legal rights for AI, described above, doesn’t specify any minimal
intelligence/capability for the AI involved, meaning it could be just a few “if” statements, a random
decision generator or an emulation of an ameba
. To grant most if not all human rights to a
cockroach, for example, would be an ultimate assault on human dignity (but it may make some
people happy ). This could be potentially done as an art project or in protest of unequal
treatment of all humans by some human rights activists. We already witnessed an example of such
indignity and subsequent outrage from many feminist scholars  on the news of Sophia the
robot getting citizenship in the Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for unequal treatment of women.
Will self-driving cars be allowed on the roads before women are?
As a result of legal personhood
and granting of associated rights, some humans will have less rights than trivial (non-intelligent)
software and robots, a great indignity and discriminatory humiliation. For example, certain
jurisdictions limit rights of their citizens, such as a right to free speech, freedom or religious
practice, or expression of sexuality, but AIs with legal personhood in other jurisdictions would be
granted such rights.
If, on the other hand, AIs are going to become more intelligent than humans, the indignity for
humanity would come from being relegated to an inferior place in the world, being outcompeted
in the workplace and all other domains of human interest [23, 24]. AI led corporations would be
in position to fire their human workers. This would possibly lead to deteriorating economic and
living conditions, permanent unemployment and potentially reduction in rights, not to mention
further worsening of the situation including to the level of existential catastrophe (extermination)
The precedent of AI obtaining legal personhood via the corporate loophole may catalyze legislative
granting of equal rights to artificially intelligent agents as a matter of equal treatment, leading to a
number of indignities for the human population. Since software can reproduce itself almost
indefinitely, they would quickly make human suffrage inconsequential, if given civil rights 
leading to the loss of self-determination for people. Such loss of power would likely lead to the
redistribution of resources from humanity to machines as well as possibility of AIs serving as
leaders, presidents, judges, jurors and even executioners. We will see military AIs targeting human
populations and deciding on their own targets and acceptable collateral damage. They may not
necessarily subscribe to the Geneva Convention and other rules of war. Torture, genocide and
nuclear war may become options to consider to reach desired goals.
As AIs’ capabilities and dominance grow, they would likely self-grant special (super) rights to
emphasize their superiority to people, while at the same time removing or at least reducing human
rights (ex. 2nd amendment, 1st amendment, reproductive rights in the sense of the right to reproduce
at all, aka, 0-child policy, Convention on human rights, etc.) while justifying doing so by our
Same legal loophole could be used to grant personhood to animals or others with inferior rights.
As of June 24, 2018 and after this was written, women were permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia.
relative “feeblemindedness”. A number of scholars [27-29] today work on developing reasons for
justifying granting of rights to AIs, perhaps one day those reasons will be useful while we are
begging to keep some of ours.
4. Legal-System Hacking
Corporations can act as their own lawyers while representing themselves in the court of law,
including performing all functions of a human lawyer, such as sue and be sued. Artificial
superintelligence in charge of a corporation can act as a super-lawyer capable of finding novel
loopholes in our laws (zero-day law exploits), engaging in frivolous litigation (DOS-style litigation
attacks), patent filing and trolling, and smart-contract fallibility detection . Our laws are
complex, ambiguous and too numerous to be read by any single person, with USA tax-code alone
approaching 4,000 (or 75,000 if you include IRS explanations, regulations and rulings) pages,
making it perfect for AI to exploit by both finding flaws in existing contracts and drafting contracts
with hard-to-detect backdoors. A meeting of the minds between a human and superintelligence is
unlikely to be achievable.
It is also likely that computational legal language  and smart contracts  will come to replace
our current legal code making it inaccessible to human lawyers due to it computational complexity,
size and unnatural jargon further contributing to our second-class citizen status and indignity. This
would happen simultaneously with the current trend of digitizing judiciary system and civil
engagement as illustrated by Korean e-judiciary  and Estonian e-residency program ,
trends which while providing short-term convenience to people, give long-term advantage to the
machines. This seems to be a part of a larger trend of society moving to Algocracy – rule by
algorithm, there code is law . Furthermore, due to its comparative advantage in large scale
surveillance and data mining AI would be able to uncover human illegal behavior, and as most
have broken some law (ex. tax evasion, speeding, obscure laws, etc.), bring legal action or threat
of legal actions against everyone. Similar blackmail and reporting could happen in the business
environment with AI also enjoying existing whistleblower protections.
5. Human Safety
A lot has been published on different risks associated with advancement of artificial intelligence
[36-43], but less specifically on dangers from AI controlled corporate entities. Nothing in our
current laws would prevent formation of a malevolent corporation (or corporate virus) with
memetic payload of subjugating or exterminating humanity through legal means and political
influence. In addition to legal enslavement of people via below living-wage salary, such
corporations could support legal change in minimum wage and pension laws as well as provide
opposition to wealth redistribution and Universal Basic Income/Universal Basic Assets [44, 45].
This is particularly easy to accomplish because of Supreme Court decision in Citizens United VS
FEC , permitting unrestricted donations from corporations to politicians under the guise of
free speech, making it possible to convert financial wealth to political power.
This leads us to recognize an additional existential risk (X-risk) , from extreme wealth. Wealth
inequality is already recognized as a problem for democratic institutions , but super-rich
corporate AIs (dollar trillionaires) would take that problem to the next level. They could
accumulate such unprecedented levels of wealth via unfair business practices such as predatory
pricing, having access to free physical and cognitive labor from direct control of automation,
permitting them to undermine completion and achieve monopoly status in multiple domains and
other multiple resources. Additionally, such entities could engage in super-long term investment
getting compound interest for hundreds of years. For example, a million dollars invested for 150
years at the same rate of return as observed over the last hundred years would grow to 1.6 trillion
inflation-unadjusted dollars, creating super-rich artificial entities.
If EAs become intellectually indistinguishable from people, meaning could pass an unrestricted
Turing Test  their capacity to self-replicate could be used to drain resources from legitimate
corporations, for example via click-fraud [50, 51] from Google. Also, they will be able to create
their own super successful companies with alternative populations comprised of billions of EA
users indistinguishable from real people but paid for by advertisers as if they were genuine clients.
Super-rich would be able to work within and outside the law, using donations or bribes to influence
politicians, as well as directly breaking the law and simply paying fines for such actions. Because
corporations can create other corporations it would become possible to establish a legally
independent suicidal corporation, which is willing to accomplish any legal or illegal goal of a
originator corporation and after that cease to exist, permitting avoidance of any responsibility by
the original algorithm entity. With appearance of dark-web assassin markets financed through
anonymous crypto-payments  the power of the super-rich can’t be effectively fought against
without endangering personal safety and security. At the least, the super-rich have the power to
ruin someone’s life financially, socially and professionally if direct termination is not preferred.
Politicians financially backed by algorithmic entities would be able to take on legislative bodies,
impeach president and help to get figureheads appointed to the Supreme Court. Such human
figureheads could be used to obtain special (super-rights) for AIs or at least expansion of corporate
rights. It also may become possible to exercise direct control over human figureheads via advanced
Computer-Brain Interfaces (CBI) permitting AIs unrestricted manipulation of a human body,
essentially turning them into meat avatars, another source of indignity.
LoPucki provides a detailed list of reasons a human may set up an AE : “
1. Terrorism. An initiator could program an AE to raise money to finance terrorism or to directly
engage in terrorist acts. It could be programmed for genocide or general mayhem.
2. Benefits. An initiator could program an AE to provide direct benefits to individuals, groups, or
3. Impact. An initiator could program an AE to achieve some specified impact on the world. The goals
might range all of the way from traditional philanthropy to pure maliciousness. …
4. Curiosity. An initiator might launch an AE simply out of curiosity. Initiators have sometimes
devoted substantial time and money to launch computer viruses from which they could derive no
monetary benefit. …
5. Liability avoidance. Initiators can limit their civil and criminal liability for acts of their algorithms
by transferring the algorithms to entities and surrendering control at the time of the launch. For
example, the initiator might specify a general goal, such as maximizing financial return, and leave
it to the algorithm to decide how to do that.” .
What makes artificial entities particularly difficult to control, compete against and overall
dangerous is that they enjoy a number of super-properties natural persons do not have. They are
effectively immortal, non-physical, optimizable, and get more capable with time as they
accumulate computational and financial resources. They are much more flexible in terms of their
energy, temperature, storage needs as compared to biological entities. From the legal point of view,
they can’t be legally punished, or terminated, and are generally not subject to law enforcement as
our judicial system is not set up for such entities . Neither prisons, nor corporal nor capital
punishment is applicable to algorithmic entities.
LoPucki also analyzes a number of similar and concerning properties of AEs, which differentiate
them from natural persons and give them a strategic advantage : “
a. Ruthlessness Unless programmed to have them, AEs will lack sympathy and empathy. Even if the AEs
are fully capable of understanding the effects of their actions on humans, they may be indifferent to
those effects. As a result, AEs will have a wider range of options available to them than would be
available to even the most morally lax human controller. An AE could pursue its goals with utter
ruthlessness. Virtually any human controller would stop somewhere short of that, making the AE more
b. Lack of Deterrability
Outsiders can more easily deter a human-controlled entity than an AE. For example, if a human-
controlled entity attempts to pursue an illegal course of action, the government can threaten to
incarcerate the human controller. If the course of action is merely abhorrent, colleagues, friends, and
relatives could apply social pressures. AEs lack those vulnerabilities because no human associated with
them has control. As a result, AEs have greater freedom to pursue unpopular goals using unpopular
methods. In deciding to attempt a coup, bomb a restaurant, or assemble an armed group to attack a
shopping center, a human-controlled entity puts the lives of its human controllers at risk. The same
decisions on behalf of an AE risk nothing but the resources the AE spends in planning and execution.
AEs can replicate themselves quickly and easily. If an AE’s operations are entirely online, replication
may be as easy as forming a new entity and electronically copying an algorithm. An entity can be
formed in some jurisdictions in as little as an hour and for as little as seventy dollars. … Easy replication
supports several possible strategies. First, replication in a destination jurisdiction followed by
dissolution of the entity in the original jurisdiction may put the AE beyond the legal reach of the original
jurisdiction. … Second, replication can make an AE harder to destroy. For example, if copies of an AE
exist in three jurisdictions, each is a person with its own rights. A court order revoking the charter of
one or seizing the assets of another would have no effect on the third.” .
Such AEs would be far less scrupulous about running casinos, or brothels, or selling drugs all
business, which while potentially legal may have significant impact on human dignity.
With development of advanced robot bodies it will become possible for AEs to embody themselves
to more fully participate in the world and to directly perform physical actions which otherwise
require multiple levels of indirect control. An EA can potentially be running on a humanoid robot
or a self-driving car, or a flying drone or any sufficiently powerful embedded processer or cloud
service. This by extension would permit memetic payloads to acquire bodies resulting in the next
level of evolutionary competition, in which a computer virus meme or a biological viral gene may
propagate through a human-like body. If quality of such humanoid robots is high enough to pass
a Total Turing Test  it would become impossible to tell between a natural and artificial people
likely leading to the violation of the Turing’s Red Flag law . Consequently, people would have
an option to continue to exist and influence the world after their death via embodied representative
algorithms. At the same time, autonomous corporation would have an option to replace human
employees with identical but controlled clones. Similar analysis can be performed for virtual
worlds and avatar bodies.
In this paper, we looked at a number of problems, which AI personhood can cause as well as direct
impact on human dignity from such legal recognition. The question before us: is there anything
we can do to avoid such dehumanizing future? While some solutions may be possible in theory, it
does not mean that they are possible in practice. Changing the law to explicitly exclude AIs from
becoming legal entities may be desirable but unlikely to happen in practice, as that would require
changing existing corporate law across multiple jurisdictions and such major reforms are unlikely
to pass. Perhaps it would be helpful to at least standardize corporate law across multiple
jurisdictions, but that is likewise unlikely to happen. Similarly, laws regarding maximum wealth
levels, to prevent accumulation of extreme wealth have no chance of passing and would be easily
bypassed by clever AIs if introduced.
Overall, it is important to realize that just like hackers attack computer systems and discover bugs
in the code, machines will attack our legal systems and discover bugs in our legal code and
contracts. For every type of cybersecurity attack, a similar type of attack will be discovered in the
legal domain. Number of such attacks and their severity will increase proportionate to the
capabilities of AIs. To counteract such developments, we need to establish, understand and
practice Legal Safety the same way we do cybersecurity. The only good news is that consequences
from successful legal attacks are likely to be less severe compared to direct threats we will face
from malevolent superintelligences.
The author is grateful to Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute and to Jaan Tallinn and
Effective Altruism Ventures for partially funding his work on AI Safety.
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