In the future there exists what I call "HuComs" Or Humanoid Computers(, like Chobits if you've seen it).
The usual HuCom is called a PersoCom, or Personal Computer. These are owned by a person (or organization) and are considered non-sentient. They act very human like and can walk around by themselves making decisions and such. On the surface they could easily be mistaken for a regular person.
There are however HuComs that are AutoComs, or Autonomous Computer. They are sentient and not owned. They are the exact same technologically, both software and hardware wise, at base, as PersoComs, but there is something about AutoComs that qualifies them as Sentient while PersoComs not.
This distinction is probably best shown in a virtual, purely digital, environment. A PersoCom might act completely human like, but they probably don't know that they are part of a simulation. They're really advanced NPCs in MMORPGs essentially. AutoComs are PCs within the MMORPGs and know they are in the simulation... but this example is complicated by some PersoComs know that it is simulation, but are not considered sentient.
To further complicate things, there are also things called SOman, short for Synthetic Organic Human. They are biologically human, but their brains have been manipulated to produce whatever personality and knowledge that is desired. They are considered property and are essentially the same thing as a PersoCom, but with biological hardware.
Both SOmen and PersoComs can become "sentient" and thus transition from SOman to regular Human and PersoCom to AutoCom.
What would/could be the legal codes that govern these Synthetics?
a. What would we use to distinguish one from the other, and how would you test for it to go from non-sentient to sentient?
b. What would the rights of these Synthetics be both, pre-sentient and post.
c. What would the rights of the (former) owners be?
d. What sort of fines/charges might be levied on the owners/former owners?
For example, such a situation might arise where someone is taking a long journey and some time during that long journey a HuCom becomes sentient. The owner cannot get the test done so does not know, but should have also had the test done sometime during the period of the journey. As a PersoCom, the HuCom is entitled to no particular treatment nor remunerations for anything that it does. However as an AutoCom the HuCom has the exact same rights and entitlements as the now former owner and as such it could be claimed that the AutoCom is being held against its will (kidnapping), is owed for services rendered, and even things like rape, abuse, assault, etc (even murder if you could retroactively prove that a deactivated HuCom was sentient at the time of deactivation) all of which would be completely innocent actions taken by the former owner.