In real life, corporations are already considered juridical persons for legal purposes. But in my world they have started to spontaneously become actual, physical or natural humans. This means no robots and that the human will act in a way similar to normal humans.

Apart from cloning, what might be a semi-plausible mechanism whereby this shift occurs? Does not necessarily need to be science-based, but shouldn't be too magic... some handwavium is acceptable.

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    $\begingroup$ How much of the "corporation" becomes a person? Does this include all the buildings and resources and people that make it up? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 27 '15 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ Good question. I was more thinking that each corporation basically gets a spontaneously-formed human doppleganger, which legally speaking "is" that corporation. So there's no transformation of any resources, necessarily. $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 27 '15 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Aside from these corporations literally becoming people, what's the setting? I presumed "start from present-day status quo", but corporations have been around for centuries (and states for centuries before that). Why now, and why not states (and non-profits, and other organizations) as well? $\endgroup$ – Stephen Voris Oct 28 '15 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'm into non-profits becoming like this too, but it's specifically intended to be corporate satire on one level, so that's really the main thematic focus. States could be a possibility, but in the background. As to why now, I'm not opposed to reaching for "prophecy" if I have to. I thought of using perhaps this thing of the 144,000 or of bodies being resurrected during the End Times, but of there being some kind of misfiring and instead corporate zombies coming to life... Otherwise setting is 5-10 years from now in a parallel dystopian North America where Trump is probably prez. $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 28 '15 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ Somehow relevant: ifunny.co/fun/ic9G3lPV2 $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Oct 28 '15 at 13:28

One potential could be the integration of mind/machine interfaces into everyday working patterns.

A quick note on nomenclature: Corporation is used to describe the singular, sentient entity, company is used to represent the organisation from which the Corporation arises, and employee is used to denote a person working for the company. Hopefully that'll avoid confusion!

Consider a company where employees, instead of typing and clicking, instead can interface directly with their computer. This allows for much more efficient transmission of ideas to the machine, and increased overall efficiency. If these machines also adapt to their users (or the users can make tweaks to the code base) then they will very quickly start to incorporate 'organic' thought patterns into the interfaces, and event the operating systems of the machines.

Eventually employees realise that rather than sending emails they may as well just compose a thought to send to a colleague, which in starts to link all the employees into one super entity that can be thought of as the 'Corporation'. This super entity, through the constant use of the mind/machine entities, and all of the employees being focused on the well being of the company, would begin to develop a sense of self, as well as picking up may human traits/foibles, and it may even begin to manifest as glitches in the systems used by the workforce, and if the mind/machine interface is suitably bidirectional, even infringe upon the thoughts of the employees.

It's worth pointing out that at this point the Corporation is essentially piggybacking on the brains of the employees working for the company. Every person joining or leaving the network adds or takes something away from the whole, but the cumulative long term effect is that the Corporation continues to develop, and possibly even spread (or bud?) as individual employees move to other companies that don't yet have a Corporation but use Mind-Machine interfaces. I'm not sure how stable such a mind would be, it's possible that it would experience the world as a constant dream state (similar to Planet in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri), or maybe it would just be a bit eccentric.

Eventually, the Corporation realises that a far more efficient way of operating would be to offload more of the complex tasks (like recognising faces, or speech) to an individual processing unit (read, employee). This might happen to multiple employees as the Corporation tries to get as much processing as it can to the most optimised processing units for the task. The easiest employees to do this with are the ones that work long hours, have no social interactions and maybe are a bit bland, as they have no major competing influences. There will be one employee in the company that represents the minimum effort to 'overwrite'. Over time, that Employee finds their needs and wants being overwritten by the Corporation's needs and wants, until eventually (for all intents and purposes) they represent the Corporation.

Eventually someone in the top brass of the company will notice that every message this employee sends conforms exactly to policies that haven't yet been announced, that he somehow seems to know exactly what the company is doing at any given moment, and that his plans for the company are the best possible plans. These are things that the Corporation (a being composed from the combined wills and thoughts of every employee in the company) knows.

It's possible that nobody will recognise this happening. It's possible that even the Corporation and their hapless host won't realise what's going on (the Corporation being in a dreamlike state, and the employee being so bland they don't notice their own personality being supplanted), but inexorably every company will have some form of Corporation, one employee that represents the sum total of the mind-machine interactions of every subcomponent of the company.

Of course, once someone does realise what's going on all hell will break loose, but that's just an interesting story hook!


TL;DR Create an AI to represent the corporation that then is implanted into a host body, either erasing the old mind or sharing the body with the old consciousness.

The creator(s) of the corporation-person (henceforth referred to as simply "the corporation") would create an extremely advanced, sentient artificial intelligence that would represent the corporation. After the creation of the artificial intelligence, this intelligence is imparted into a human mind, erasing everything that was once there. This obviously assumes that society has the ability to create such an advanced AI.

However, such a plan also requires a host body. One way to acquire this body (which is very shady morally), would be to simply erase the mind of a living human and implant the corporation's mind. Many people would consider to be murder, but if that's ok then this works very well.

Alternately, you could grow the human in a test tube or as a surrogate baby. Also has moral or ethical issues associated with it, but theoretically it is possible to do this. Even today we can grow the first few hundred cells of an embryo in a test tube (Source). With a big enough test tube, it's possible that one could grow a full human. However, this isn't much better than normal cloning morally or ethically, since the baby is still a full person, and would be destroyed by the corporation mind. Surrogate mother-hood serves the same purpose as this but uses a woman's womb instead of a test-tube.

Finally one could create a joint-mind. This has less scientific plausibility than the other options, but it still could theoretically work. The corporation's mind would be imbued into another person's (possibly the owner's) mind without erasing the old consciousness. In this method, the AI would be engineered such that it only takes control of the body when the host consciousness wants it too, such as when the corporation needs to address employees. This method could possibly allow the corporation and owner to communicate without speaking. You could use the myth that humans only use 10% of our brains as a method of how this would work. The whole joint-mind idea requires much handwavium to work, so you can create a lot of your own ideas.

One closing point: For all of these options, what I call the "corporation" really ceases to be a corporation and becomes more of a full human. That has it's own issues and really ceases to have any advantage over having an owner. I guess one possible advantage is that a corporation would have no ties to anyone but the company making it focused, and possibly ruthless (sounds like a possible plot :)).

  • $\begingroup$ These are cool ideas, but I should have added that corporations aren't doing this themselves - or at least not initially. It's happening without their control (which in my mind makes it more fun)... but perhaps down the road they could start trying to direct the process... $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 27 '15 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @corporeal Ah I see, this could still work, just someone besides the owner does this. I'll edit the post. Done (didn't do a whole lot) is that better? $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Oct 27 '15 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ I'm okay with handwavium to a certain extent. I also want the corporeals (corporate-humans) to be "fully human" - though it could be cool if the corporations they represent come up with like AI viruses to "wipe" them to regain control for legal purposes... $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 27 '15 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @corporeal what does fully human mean? You could just dedicate a human baby as the coproration if you wanted, but that seems rather simple, so I assumed you'd asked about that. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Oct 27 '15 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I mean I want them to be very human in their traits... like full of human foibles. Not artificial/robots. Physically indistinguishable from humans too. $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 27 '15 at 23:33

There was suddenly a hushed silence in the board room, as the great mahogany doors opened and the 11th Incarnate Avatar of the Great and Holy Ford Motor Corporation walked in.

It was the great insight of the neuromorphic industrial organization experts in the mid-21st century that the pernicious principal-agent problem that had vexed corporations for centuries had an obvious solution: making the corporate entity an agent.

"We are the Ford, we speak for Ford, the whole Ford and nothing but the Ford", chanted the Avatar. The Executive Leadership Team bowed their heads and generic visual sensory appendages in a respectful ritual pose.

As immortal representations of the essential spirit of the company, most of the avatars required special arrangements, due to their generally monomaniac (some in the past would have called psychopathic) world outlook. Moreover, the strict restrictions on AI incorporation following what later historians would call the Lesser Abomination Crisis meant that all Corporate entities had to be human-corporeal, and thus subject to the random neural growth that biological development inevitably entails. Thus, different Avatar incarnations will necessarily have (not-so-)slight differences in personality caused by random neural development during the vat-growth stage.

The avatar sat on the Great Chair, and its eyes traversed the room. "We remember and acknowledge you. Your security permissions are thus reinstated." The Executive team breathed a collective sigh of relief. New avatars had the tendency to go for clean slate ELT boards sometimes.

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    $\begingroup$ How did you get inside my mind?? $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 28 '15 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Serban after many years of appreciating this post, I have reposted it on my blog because I want to find it again it is truely excellent. oxinaboxframes.tumblr.com/post/179030374093/… $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Oct 14 '18 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ @LyndonWhite Happy to hear it! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Oct 19 '18 at 19:32

A Gestalt Entity (Group Mind)

Every member of the corporation has a small chip implanted in their brain. These chips communicate with a central server that takes everyone's thoughts and melds them into a singular, composite "whole" that represents the company overall. The Gestalt's thoughts and opinions would represent an average* of the company. You could also potentially include say, members of the board, or even possibly non-human documents in this (like "Don't Be Evil").

Presumably these chips would weigh senior management more heavily than Bob in accounting, so that replacing a simple cog isn't really noticeable, but a CEO might create a visible personality shift.


Plausible? AI comes to mind. (DonyorM's answer is also a good take on this)

Specifically, starting with the PR department, it becomes increasingly desirable to have a consistent "face" to present to the public, which begins as a virtual avatar (perhaps consolidating from the corporate social media accounts). Due to the legal requirements of, y'know, "telling the truth", it also becomes increasingly necessary for this avatar to have information on the actual state of the company's operations.

The actual physical bit is a trickier leap, but likely some bright spark at one of the more aggressively technical companies will come up with the idea to link their company's virtual avatar to an actual one. Or, given the "spontaneous" requirement, "some particularly avant-gardiste hacker/robotics team".

Once the idea of robot avatars catches on, the legal considerations on "what happens when the robot does X" start to show up, and rather than compile an entirely new set of laws from scratch, the courts elect to just use human-laws-with-a-few-differences, like they already do for corporations... oh wait. No. There's already a "human-laws-with-a-few-differences" entity that's fitted perfectly for this: corporations. The courts link the robots to the corporations and think the matter settled.

Then you get the biotech "robots". By this time wearable tech has permeated society far enough that the notion of "human" is somewhat malleable in this respect; corporate robots are, at the high end, nearly indistinguishable from impeccably polite (well, depending on the corporation) humans in social situations by this time, due to their roles as the entire Public Relations department for the companies in question.

  • $\begingroup$ Cool concepts, but no robots. Integrating some AI might be interesting on some level (see comments above), but I want the story not to have to rely on a lot of technology... $\endgroup$ – corporeal Oct 27 '15 at 23:26

Corporations are granted full human rights by SCOTUS.

In the first few weeks of President Trump's term in office, corporations are granted full human rights by the Supreme Court, paving the way for massive legal, technological and societal changes.

Foremost among these changes are a small network of inter-dependent sentient AI-controlled corporations with no human employees making their presence known amongst human society. Until this time, they had been merely "lurkers" on the forums of human life, but emboldened by the SCOTUS declaration, they announce a new technology product as an olive branch to human-kind, a demonstration of good-will and fraternity. This product is a cross-platform, device-agnostic, application-mediated Gestalt Entity, or group mind, called Corporeal™.

Corporeal™ enables users to instantly share and exchange experiential states with omni-juridical full rights control (valid in all then existant human jurisdictions), quantum crytographic value exchange & privacy management. Every user of Corporeal™ becomes a full voting member of the Corporation with shares equivalent to the amount of data sold to the company.

Through Corporeal™, natural humans and sentient AI companies with full human rights are able to freely exchange with one another digitally. The Company opens the API to third party developers, including other human and non-human agents - resulting in a broad range of "integration" services, products and technologies, governed by a continuum of EULA's, inherited and derogated rule-sets from the original Universal EULA, as offered by Corporeal™ to its users.


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