The boundaries of legal personhood: how spontaneous intelligence can problematise differences between humans, artificial intelligence, companies and animals

Jiahong Chen, Paul Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we identify the way in which various forms of legal personhood can be differentiated from one another by comparing these entities with a—not too farfetched—hypothetical situation in which intelligence spontaneously evolves (i.e. without human design) within the internet: spontaneous intelligence (“SI”). In these terms, we consider the challenges that may arise where SI as an entity: has no owner, no designer, and no controller; has evolved into existence as a non-human created intelligence; is autonomous; has no physical form; and, although it exists around the world, exists in no particular jurisdiction. Based on this refined notion of SI, we consider issues related to the recognition of such an entity’s legal personhood. By briefly exploring the attribution of legal personality to various entities—including, humans, corporations, artificial intelligence (“AI”) (in various forms) and higher forms of animal life—we differentiate SI from these other forms of intelligence whilst illustrating it shares most characteristics with human intelligence and not, as may intuitively be thought, with various forms of AI. After critically evaluating the classification of these various forms of intelligence, we briefly suggest some ramifications of these differences and suggest that the approach adopted may assist in drawing more effective boundaries between the entities that are already recognised as legal persons, as well as between sub-categories of entities, such as various forms of AI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalArtificial Intelligence and Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Corporations
  • Legal personhood
  • Non-human animals
  • Spontaneous intelligence

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