I think we can all agree that Siri, the iPhone's voice-activated helper, doesn't count as a person, even though it sometimes tells a joke. (Ask it to marry you.)
What about Pepper, the humanoid robot that sold out within a minute Saturday in Japan? It's designed to read your face and voice and react to your various emotional states. But is it worthy of the same respect as your neighbors? Or your dog?
These are some of the questions AMC's Humans will no doubt inspire. A charming, exciting, and impeccably written sci-fi drama for grown-ups co-produced by AMC and Britain's Channel 4, it premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Adapted from the hit Swedish series Real Humans (Äkta människor), Humans is set in a parallel version of England which looks and feels exactly as it does now - except that the streets and alleys, the shops and factories are teeming with alarmingly human-looking 'bots of all shades and colors.
Called "synths," these helpful robots do the heavy lifting at work, the shopping and cleaning at home; they'll help your kids with their homework and read them bedtime stories. And, if you want, they'll cuddle with you when you're sad or give you porn-movie-style sex.
"It's such a bold and striking exploration of the impact of humanoid androids in our society," said Derek Wax, one of the show's executive producers. "Unlike dystopian movies like Robocop, Terminator, and Blade Runner that deal with the future, it's set in a parallel present . . . and it's grounded in a domestic setting."
Humans tells three parallel stories about three very different families.
The first features Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) and Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Selfridge) as a typical suburban middle-class couple who hope their synth can help out around the house so they can spend more quality time with their three kids.
"He's, very appropriately, called Joe. He's a very straightforward guy," Goodman-Hill says of his character, Joe Hawkins. "But you can tell from the first episodes something may not be quite right with his marriage."
Named Anita (Gemma Chan), the family's artificial person begins acting too human for their comfort, making deep emotional attachments with the kids.
American film great William Hurt (A History of Violence, Winter's Tale) stars as a cranky, aging widower who considers his synth Odi (Will Tudor) a surrogate son. Odi is an older model, totally obsolete, and he begins to malfunction - setting in motion a series of very funny slapstick set pieces.
The third group is led by a mysterious techie named Leo (Merlin's Colin Morgan) who is on the run with a half-dozen illegal synths outfitted with the robot version of a soul, fully functioning A.I. units that can feel and think for themselves.
Anita was Leo's lover - she's a supersynth like the others, kidnapped, reprogrammed, and sold to the Hawkins family.
So are these supersynths real people?
"[The show] really brings up the question of what it is about people that deserves respect," said Goodman-Hill. "Should they have rights?"
Like Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, Humans suggests being a person has less to do with what you have inside - smarts, feelings, self-awareness - than how you are recognized and treated by others.
"It raises the issue of how much dignity we owe to others, people different from us," said Goodman-Hill.
After all, said Wax, the line between person and machine isn't that cut-and-dried.
"What makes us all that different?" he asked. "To a certain extent we are machines, too, and we are determined by our programming, our genes."
Premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC