Robots might one day be smart enough to demand emancipation from their human owners, raising the prospects they'll have to be treated as citizens, according to a speculative paper released by the British government.
Among the warnings: a "monumental shift" could occur if robots were developed to the point where they could reproduce, improve or think for themselves.
"Correctly managed, there is a very real possibility for increased labor output and greater intelligence to be provided by robots that will ultimate lead to greater human prosperity and an improvement of the human condition," it said.
However, it warned that robots could sue for their rights if these were denied to them.
Should they prove successful, the paper said, "states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time."
The paper did not address the likelihood such a rights-seeking robot would be developed, and it predicted the issue would not come up for at least another 20 years.
But innovations raised in other papers issued Wednesday, including artificial retinas and drugs for dramatically lengthened lifespans, were thought to be only a decade away.
The research, commissioned by the U.K. Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Center, looks ahead to the year 2056 to identify issues "of potentially significant impact or opportunity." It was put together by British research company Ipsos-MORI, the consultancy Outsights and the American-based Institute for the Future.
"We're not in the business of predicting the future, but we do need to explore the broadest range of different possibilities to help ensure government is prepared in the long term and considers issues across the spectrum in its planning," said Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser.
The papers, he added, "are aimed at stimulating debate and critical discussion to enhance government's short and long term policy and strategy."