A report from the Committee of Legal Affairs adopted January the 12th concerning artificial intelligence and robots was proposed to the MEPs, who asked for a new legal frame at a European level. The issue of giving a legal status to robots is urgent regarding to the « new industrial » revolution currently ongoing, according the report and a majority of the European parliament.

Firstly, the report recommends comprehensive rules, including a binding kill switch, to be sure that European citizens could use robots « without risk or fear of physical or psychological harm », especially since robots’ potential for replacing humans as workers is more and more considered. Hence, member states need to elaborate a basic legal frame concerning robot / human relationships, including privacy, dignity and safety issues.
Moreover, the report considers that artificial intelligence could be able to surpass human capacities in short term, and asks for a properly preparation for this possibility that is not any more a pure science fiction assumption: it is « a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and, consequently, perhaps also to its capacity to be in charge of its own destiny and to ensure the survival of the species ». That’s why the report states robotic research should be framed and conducted with consideration of respecting humans’ wellbeing interests. Meanwhile, the report suggests to create a legal liability for robots, depending of the autonomy and the level of instructions given: « The greater a robot’s learning capability or autonomy is, the lower other parties’ responsibilities should be and the longer a robot’s ‘education’ has lasted, the greater the responsibility of its ‘teacher’ should be ». Assurances could also be required for potential damages caused by robots.
In this way, a European agency for robotics and artificial intelligence should be created to provide ethical and technical frame and expertise, requests the report.

Despite a prospective positive vote of the MEPs for these rules, national governments will have to debate and establish their own amendments before the EU can create a real and effective European frame concerning robots and artificial intelligence.
In this way, the report is more a thinking leverage offering by the EU to its member states to encourage them to have a better consideration of this issue.

Emmanuelle Gris

To find out more:

Draft Report, with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics (2015/2103(INL)), Committee on Legal Affairs, Rapporteur: Mady Delvaux, (Initiative – Rule 46 of the Rules of Procedure), 31/05/2016:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML%2BCOMPARL%2BPE-582.443%2B01%2BDOC%2BPDF%2BV0//EN

European Parliament news: Robots: Legal Affairs Committee calls for EU-wide rules:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170110IPR57613/robots-legal-affairs-committee-calls-for-eu-wide-rules

BBC: « MEPs vote on robots’ legal status – and if a kill switch is required »:
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-38583360