If Androids Dream, Are They More Than Sheep? Robot Protagonists and Human Rights

Amanda DiPaolo
St. Thomas University
Fredericton, N.B. Canada


The robot protagonists in HBO’s Westworld open the door to several philosophical and ethical questions, perhaps the most complex being: should androids be granted similar legal protections as people? Westworld offers its own exploration of what it means to be a person and places emphasis on one’s ability to feel and understand pain. With scientists and corporations actively working toward a future that includes robots that can display emotion in a way that can convincingly pass as that of a person’s, what happens when androids pass the Turing test, feel empathy, gain consciousness, are sentient, or develop free will? The question becomes more complex given the possibility of computer error. What should happen if robots designed for companionship commit heinous crimes, and without remorse? Westworld poses such social and legal questions to its viewers and is, thus, ripe for classroom discussion. This essay explores the complex and contradictory implications of android hosts overcoming their dehumanization through an awakening to both experience and agency. With television and film holding a mirror up to reality, what can science fiction teach us that would help us prepare for such a possibility?

Keywords: Westworld, artificial intelligence, human rights, Science Fiction, robots


Author Bio

Amanda DiPaolo is associate professor of human rights at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B. She is the co-editor of The Politics of Twin Peaks (Lexington, 2019), and has written about nostalgia in Twin Peaks as well as inequality and racism in Mad Men. Her work can be found at https://stthomasu.academia.edu/AmandaDiPaolo. Reach her on Twitter at @profdipaolo.


Suggested Citation


DiPaolo, A. (2019). If androids dream, are they more than sheep?: Westworld, robots, and legal rights. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 6(2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v6-issue-2/if-androids-dream-are-they-more-than-sheep-robot-protagonists-and-human-rights/


DiPaolo, Amanda. “If Androids Dream, Are They More Than Sheep?: Westworld, Robots, and Legal Rights”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2019, vol 6, no. 2. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v6-issue-2/if-androids-dream-are-they-more-than-sheep-robot-protagonists-and-human-rights/

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