The report was based on a collection of papers from futurist researchers looking at trends in health, science and technology and whose topics included human rights for intelligent machines.

Premature suggestion

Some experts in robotics, such as Owen Holland from the University of Essex, say such statements are premature and do not address the real issues of how robots should be integrated into modern life.

"We are not there yet," says Holland, a professor of computer science.

"We have no time scale for what can be done in robotics."

Noel Sharkey, a fellow professor of computer science at the University of Sheffield, said: "The idea of machine consciousness is a bit of a fairy tale. Discussing robot rights now is very premature."

Like all technologies, Sharkey says, the problem with robotics lies in its applications.

"We can imagine lots of frightening scenarios," he said, adding that it is up to the public to decide how robots should be employed.

"If they are used properly, robots will ultimately benefit mankind."

Robots are already a part of everyday life, from vacuum cleaners that clean rooms on their own to autopilots that fly aeroplanes.

Robot wars

While British scientists seek to define more clearly how such technology is used, other countries have used robots more readily.

Japan has embraced robots and developed some capable of taking care of the elderly.

Researchers have created a 1.52m tall robot that can see, hear, smell and carry up to 70kg in weight.

The US congress declared six years ago that it wanted one-third of its military robots to be autonomous by 2015.

Robots are currently used by the army to navigate independently in desert terrain, and researchers are now investigating whether they could also do so in urban areas.

Last year in South Korea, scientists produced an armed robot guard with the capacity to kill.

Some Korean officials even proposed that robots equipped with guns could one day patrol the border with North Korea.