Turing’s People: Personhood, Artificial Intelligence and Popular Culture

Bruce Baer Arnold, Drew Gough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What is legal personhood? Many people understand personhood - and by extension law - through depictions in popular culture. The contemporary feature film for example provides a lens through which non-specialists (people without a background in information technology, philosophy and law) can make sense of humanoid robots and distributed artificial intelligence (AI), entities that perform as 'human'. Such an understanding is increasingly salient as AI becomes a pervasive but under-recognised aspect of daily life, and continues to evolve in its sophistication and complexity, provoking questions about rights, responsibilities and regulation regarding artificial entities that are independent rather than autonomous. The article accordingly analyses depictions of personhood in films such as Ex Machina, WarGames, Alien and Alien Covenant, Forbidden Planet, RoboCop and AI. It suggests that popular culture has an uncertain grasp of legal personhood but provokes thought and tells us something useful about the difference between human animals, non-human animals, corporations and new artificial persons. Those differences will be legally and culturally contested in the emerging age of smart machines and governance by algorithm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-37
Number of pages37
JournalCanberra Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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