Robots In EU Could Soon Be Recognized As ‘Electronic Persons’

By Ted Goodman

Robots in Europe may soon be classified as “electronic persons” if the European Union adopts a recently submitted proposal. Owners of these robots would be liable to paying social security on each robot in an unprecedented step meant to address the rising presence of robotic workers in the EU. The proposal calls for “the creation of a European Agency for robotics and artificial intelligence in order to provide the technical, ethical and regulatory expertise.”

Robots are being used in exponentially greater numbers in factories and also taking on tasks ranging from surgery to manufacturing and even personal care. Robots are becoming so ubiquitous that there are growing fears over unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation. Advancements in robotics and their intelligence has spurred efforts to rethink policies ranging from taxation to liability.

The proposal includes science fiction author Issac Asimov’s three laws of robotics that he inspired his novels; a robot may not injure a human or allow a human to be harmed; robots must obey orders by humans and; robots must protect their own existence as long as it doesn’t breach the first two rules.

VDMA, a German trade group that represents robot manufacturers, is opposed to the motion and asserts that it is too early for a legal framework and that it could stifle innovation. Patrick Schwarzkopf, VDMA’s managing director, told the media that the proposed legal framework, “would be very bureaucratic and would stunt the development of robotics.”

Supporters of the motion argue that Europe needs a coherent framework to support and regulate robotics in order to keep pace with the rest of the world. “The US, China, Korea and Japan have very ambitious projects,” said Mady Delvaux, an MP from Luxembourg and the motion’s sponsor. “If we do not create the legal framework for the development of robotics, our market will be invaded by robots from outside,” she concluded.

The motion must win the backing from various political blocks within the European Parliament, which is no easy task. If the motion does pass, it would be a non-binding resolution because the Parliament lacks the authority to propose legislation.

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