By Iliana Koutoulakou –
The EU Parliament is about to make history by discussing the first ever legislation worldwide especially focused on robotics and automation. The aim is to create rules defining artificial intelligence and outline the 4rth Industrial Revolution.
A Powerful European Legal Framework to Be
Addressing designers, manufacturers and robot users, a revolutionary draft resolution was presented at the EU Parliament, during a hearing of the JURI Committee (Committee on Legal Affairs). The resolution currently demonstrates a set of recommendations to be sent in the European Commission. Nevertheless, it clearly signals a new era in the legal scene.
The proposals seeks to regulate the impact of robots in society, economy and employment. The objects of this “sui generis” legal framework are the machines capable of taking autonomous decisions and interacting with their environment in an intelligent and independent way. Such machines are involved in the industry (automobile), the domestic sector (robots designed to assist elders or disabled people), medicine (robots operating on humans) and even in the army (drones). Therefore, the draft concerns a large variety of automatic machinery, from humanoids to driverless cars.
Starting from the observation that automation gradually occupies more space in our lives, the EU is working on whether or not we should attribute robots a legal personality. If so, this will mark the creation of a third legal category of persons, between corporations and individuals: the so called “electronic persons”. Their e-personality is inspired from that of the legal entities and ascribes robots both rights and obligations. Foundation of this idea is the remark that even if a robot has been constructed by a manufacturer, programmed by a developer and modulated by its owner, it can still take initiatives reacting to the stimuli it receives.
The great issue which arises is the liability in case of an accident caused by a robot. If we consider robots as pets, then their owner—user—would be responsible for a potential wrongdoing. But if we attribute them a legal personality per se, then possibly the manufacturer would be presumed as responsible; or would it be the programmer who installed the software in it? In any case, the EU will need to modify its insurance law rules to comply with this new reality.
Privacy issues is another controversial subject that needs to be clarified. No matter what rules we create to define artificial intelligence, human’s rights should always be considered as the first priority. Morally speaking, a robot cannot, in any case, be permitted to harm a human being. On the contrary, limitations should be strictly set out, so as to reassure that robots always serve humans and not vice versa.
Politicians fear that the more the automation is promoted, the more critical consequences this phenomenon will generate for the labour market. The new set of recommendations calls for the Commission to examine whether the enhancement of robots actually creates or destroys employment. For now, experts are divided; some believe new opportunities are generated, while others underline that robots will steal people’s jobs.
The EU Parliament is about to decide upon the draft resolution during the plenary session in February 2017.
Iliana Koutoulakou was a Schuman Trainee for the PANA secretariat, DG IPOL, during the March – July 2017 traineeship session.