On the 16th February 2017, the European Parliament took a big step by adopting a resolution with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics.
This resolution is seemingly based on Asimov’s Laws with the willingness to protect humans. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) underline the importance of ethical principles by reminding that the potential for empowerment through the use of robotics is nuanced by a set of tensions and risks. The European Parliament considers that a legal framework is not enough and should be updated and complemented by guiding ethical principles. In annex to the resolution, a framework in the form of a charter consisting of a code of conduct for robotics engineers was drawn up with the assistance of the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), the European Parliamentary Research Service. To give an example, MEPs underline that a special attention should be paid to the possible development of an emotional connection between humans and robots. In such an instance, these ethical principles could really matter.
MEPs call on the Commission to propose common Union definitions of cyber physical systems, autonomous systems, smart autonomous robots and their subcategories on the following characteristics:
- the acquisition of autonomy through sensors and/or by exchanging data with its environment (inter-connectivity) and the trading and analysing of those data;
- self-learning from experience and by interaction (optional criterion);
- at least a minor physical support;
- the adaptation of its behaviour and actions to the environment
- absence of life in the biological sense;
Registration of advanced robots and European Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
The European Parliament had asked the Commission for the introduction of a system of registration of advanced robots with criteria for the classification of robots that would need to be registered. This system of registration is for the purposes of traceability and in order to facilitate the implementation of further recommendations. MEPs have called on the Commission to investigate whether it would be desirable for the registration system and the register to be managed by a designated EU Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. In addition, the Parliament had also called on the Commission to consider the designation of a European Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in order to provide the technical, ethical and regulatory expertise needed to support the relevant public actors.
The resolution covers various aspects regarding robotics from standardization, safety and security to care and medical robots, as well as education and employment. Above all, one of the important issues raised by MEPs is the liability. At the moment, this question is of great importance in the automotive sector. MEPs draw attention to the fact that the driver reaction time in the event of an unplanned takeover of control of the vehicle is of vital importance and calls, therefore, on the stakeholders to provide for realistic values determining safety and liability issues. Some autonomous cars have already been involved in accidents.
The major difficulty is that these rules in robotics must not affect the process of research, innovation and development. MEPs stress the aim of shaping the technological revolution so that it serves humanity and so that the benefits of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence are broadly shared. The European Parliament calls on the Commission and the Member States to strengthen financial instruments for research projects in robotics and ICT, including public-private partnerships and to foster research programmes.
On the one hand, with the current legal framework, robots cannot be held liable per se for acts or omissions that cause damages to third parties. The cause of the robot’s act or omission can be traced back to a specific human agent. However, current legal framework is not sufficient as robots can be equipped with adaptive and learning abilities entailing a certain degree of unpredictability in their behaviour.
On the other hand, in the scenario where a robot can take an autonomous decision, the traditional rules will not suffice to give rise to legal liability for damage caused by a robot. The Parliament calls on the Commission to explore, analyse and consider the implications of all possible legal solutions, including creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run, so that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons responsible for making good any damage they may cause and possibly applying electronic personality to cases where robots make autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.
MEPs point out that a possible solution for the complexity of allocating responsibility for damage caused by increasingly autonomous robots could be an obligatory insurance scheme, as is already the case with cars. Nevertheless, unlike the insurance system for a road traffic, where the insurance covers human acts and failures, an insurance system for robotics should take into account all potential responsibilities in the chain.
Intellectual property rights and the flow of data
MEPs stress that a high level of security in robotics systems including their internal data system and data flows is crucial to the appropriate use of robots and artificial intelligence. For instance, they draw attention to the risks associated with the possibility that cyber physical systems integrated into the human body may be hacked or switched off or have their memories wiped, because this could endanger human health, and in extreme case even humans, and thus the priority is to protect such systems.
Basic income and tax on robots
The European Parliament deleted the demands for a basic income for workers who lose their jobs and tax on robots. Mady Delvaux, the author of the report, said “Although I am pleased that the plenary adopted my report on robotics, I am also disappointed that the right-wing coalition of ALDE, EPP and ECR refused to take account of possible negative consequences on the job market. They rejected an open-minded and forward-looking debate and thus disregarded the concerns of our citizens.” French socialist prime winner, Benoit Hamon, and Bill Gates are also in favor of tax on robots.
Concerning the resolution adopted, the Commission will not be obliged to follow the Parliament’s recommendations, but must state its reasons if it refuses.