Every sentient being has a right to survive. It is a right that nobody grants us but comes by virtue of us being able to demand it! Talk about a robot's rights in this regard and there is an inherent problem there. Is the robot a sentient being? Does it have consciousness? There are several questions which arise here, which need to dealt with, before one can actually begin to answer this question. If you want the most practical and direct answer to the question of whether robots should have rights, to tell you the truth, it's ridiculous to even pose this query at present, as none of the robots created till date, come even close to be called 'Sentient' or have 'Artificial Intelligence'.
At present, robots are purely 'Tools' in the sense that they are programmed smart machines capable of performing a task like a telephone or a car. Asking the question of whether a robot should have rights, at the moment is something like asking whether your car should have rights! How do you grant rights to something that doesn't understand what rights are and which does not have any mental faculties to comprehend anything?
But, what if, in the near future, we are able to create an 'Artificially Intelligent Being', a robot, that can think for itself? Then, this question of granting rights to such a sentient being of non-biological origin would indeed be a sensible question to ask! Prior to delving deep into the question, let's get some fundamental ideas cleared. Note that all the following arguments are based on plausible futuristic developments.
Who 'Deserves' to Have Rights?
With their supreme and unrivaled intelligence, humans, once a 'just another addition' to the millions of species that arose through evolution, have become masters of the planet. Claiming the entire planet to be their own, they call the shots. Most other animal species have had their natural habitats destroyed and their numbers are dwindling. 'Animal Rights' is sadly a big joke and you only deserve to have rights, if you are human. But wait, even if you are a human, there is no guarantee that you have any rights. There are millions of invented differences of gender, nationality, caste, religion, monetary status, creed, language, skin color and ideologies that decide the degree of rights you will have.
So who deserves to have 'Rights'? Only humans and among them too, only a privileged few. Ideally every sentient being deserves to be free to have the right of self determination but the problem lies in the fact that we don't live in an ideal world. So what status would an intelligent species of robots be given, by humans? Will they be a new slave class, an intelligent work force or would they be given a right to self determination? But before that, let us see what these artificially intelligent beings will be like.
Sometime in the distant future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers may have their breakthrough in creating an intelligence, of non-biological origin, which is 'self aware' and actually has the ability to think for itself. It will be an intelligence unique in many respects with the calculation speed of a computer, combined with the imagination and analytical power of the human mind!
Imagine a mind free from the mortal failings of a human mind! We are completely clueless about how such an intelligence would think and react as there are no precedents in this case. Like the fictional Andrew Martin, from Isaac Asimov's 'Bicentennial Man', these sentient robots will eventually demand 'Freedom' and the right to self determination. It is then that the question of robot rights, will have real significance. Considering that AI researchers are far away from realizing that supreme ideal of creating an actual artificially intelligent robot, the following discussion is completely hypothetical. How would humans react to the emergence of an alternative intelligence, superior to them in every respect? That's a question worth pondering upon.
Should Sentient Robots Have Rights?
The prevalent line of thinking in this respect is that of assuming the worse. As science fiction writers and popular film franchises like the 'Terminator' series' (with the fictional 'Skynet') and Matrix series have portrayed it, it's assumed that such an intelligence would eventually want to dominate the human race and see them inferior in every respect. Isaac Asimov, the brilliant futuristic science fiction writer colored them differently. In his novels, all sentient robots are bound by three laws of robotics, built into their circuits, which establish humans as their masters, making them protectors of the human race. Personally, I think that the best approach is the one Asimov suggested.
Program the intelligence with 'moral' laws that prevent them from hurting humans under any circumstances and provide them with the right to self determination. A code of 'Robot Ethics' must be built into the very circuits of this new intelligence. Considering the violence which the only intelligent species - 'Humans', that we know, is capable of, it would be better to take precautionary measures. That is the 'Safest Approach' in my opinion. This will ensure peaceful coexistence and together combining our natural and artificial intelligence, we can achieve wonders together.
Mind is not just a software program waiting to be written! Billions of neurons, with their trillion of interconnections, that form the brain, 'project' the mind. Intelligence is an emergent phenomenon. As Roger Penrose has argued in 'Emperor's New Mind', considering the human mind's complexity and the things it's capable of, it would be years before AI researchers could get anywhere near creating an artificial intelligence. If ever we are capable of creating an artificial intelligence, it would certainly be mankind's greatest achievement. Provided, these futuristic sentient robots are 'programmed' to ensure peaceful coexistence, they can have all the rights that sentient beings deserve!