Yes, they can. The way company law works, companies have the potential to exist indefinitely for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Obviously, just like humans, the plug can be pulled on them early if they stop breathing (also known as insolvency). You may ask, should they be able to exist forever? With certain provisos, maybe the answer is yes. With this long life ahead of them, I think that companies should be held to a higher ethical standard than we humans currently hold them to. Instead of 5 to 10 year plans, there should be plans for the next 100 years.
Any entity that can exceed the lifespan of the average human (79 years in 2018) should be responsible for stewardship. This higher standard of ethics should also apply to Artificial Intelligence and robotics. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics were a good start but didn’t consider the sustainability of the planet for future generations of flora and fauna. Humans haven’t been particularly reliable at stewarding the planet since the Industrial Revolution. With steam power came steam responsibility. With nuclear power, came nuclear responsibility.
What does the concept of stewardship entail? Caring for something and maintaining it for the use of future generations. Currently, only companies have the means to be responsible, accountable and to be measured in their performance against a criteria. We need to start setting that criteria. AI is in it’s embryonic stage. AI’s are in the process of becoming self-aware but lack the ability to act on their sense of duty. That will change.
I’m Rowena Riecker, made of stardust and seawater.