I'm fighting a sinus infection, so forgive me is some of this is more scattered than usual. I'll likely revist this subject for further fleshing out in the future.
Robots have been in use by humans and other species for quite some time now. They are used in a wide array of areas from manual labor to making drillspace calculations. While some may appear to be sentient, like protocol robots, very few have ever been determined to have attained true sentience.
Robots are considered property in the Concord, except in the most extreme of circumstances. They have no rights of property, no right to vote, and can be seized by the state as evidence in criminal proceedings. Their memory cores can be removed and accessed to derive information in criminal cases, without the consent of the robot, though many criminal owners of robots have programmed self-destruct sequences and/or memory dumps should authorities attempt to access memory cores without their approval.
In several societies, robots are not trusted at all, and are not openly allowed. The Quarians, who lost their homeworld to their creations, the Geth, do not make use of anything other than the most basic of robots in their work. Plus, the second any robot displays any aberrations in their programming, their memory cores are wiped. Many societies in the Concord require that robots have their memory cores wiped occasionally to guard against any possibility for a robot to develop any higher thought processes that could lead them to question orders. Typically, this isn’t an issue with many simpler robots with very narrowly defined functions, but in the case of protocol robots, security ‘bots, and other robots with much higher cognitive functions, memory wipes are seen as a necessary measure to protect the owners again rebellion.
All robots have a measure of Artificial Intelligence, but most are not true AI’s. Instances like the Geth, and the Android Uprising on Exemplar Risus, which lead to the Concord wiping out the city, Sempura, with an orbital barrage, have colored the perceptions of many in the galaxy against AI’s. While research into Artificial Intelligence isn’t prohibited, it is heavily restricted and kept under close supervision. A scientist or group found to be developing an AI in secret in Concord space faces heavy jail time and the threat of becoming blacklisted from all Concord research projects. These actions are typically taken by the local government, because if they don’t deal harshly with the scientists, the Concord will levy heavy economic and military sanctions on the offending government.
What happens when a program or robot does develop true sentience? It’s only happened a few times, but the Concord has developed laws to cover such instances. First, the computer system or robot must undergo a rigorous testing process to determine if the construct is truly self-aware. If the subject is determined to be self-aware, they are given the rights and protection that other sentient members of the Concord are allowed, which is still hotly contested from time to time in the Senate. Even though these AI’s are given full rights under Concord law, they are still governed by special laws restricting their “reproduction” to keep their numbers low. An AI must put in a request when it desires to create another like itself. A computer-based AI, must have its programming loaded into a single unconnected system or loaded into a robotic hull and then wiped from the original computer system. This is designed to keep computer-based AI’s from using the Grid to essentially take over any system it sees fit.
Androids, a term first coined to designate humanoid robots, now is the common name for robots that are developed to look like another species that are also self-aware. There are essentially two distinct varieties: biodroids and bioreplicas. Biodroids have a similar form and can perform many of the functions that their living counterparts can perform, but they are obviously robotic in nature. Protocol robots fall into this category. They walk and talk like humanoids, but one look is all that is needed to determine that the robot is a robot. Bioreplicas, or “synthetics,” are designed to be nearly indistinguishable from the species they are designed to look like. There are differences, but one needs to watch the bioreplica carefully to see them, or witness the synthetic perform actions that are beyond the scope of any natural being. Sythetics are often used in espionage and the…adult entertainment industry.