MEPs have called for comprehensive robot rules ahead of the AI revolution

Robots could soon be considered “electronic persons”

In a new report, members of the European Parliament have made it clear they think it’s essential that we establish comprehensive rules around artificial intelligence and robots in preparation for a “new industrial revolution.”

According to the report, we are on the threshold of an era filled with sophisticated robots and intelligent machines “which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched.” As a result, the need for legislation is greater than ever to ensure societal stability as well as the digital and physical safety of humans.

The report looks into the need to create a legal status just for robots which would see them dubbed “electronic persons.” Having their own legal status would mean robots would have their own legal rights and obligations, including taking responsibility for autonomous decisions or independent interactions. 

Rights and responsibilities

The owners and producers of robots with lesser intelligence may be required to take out insurance to cover any incidents of accidental damage. 

In a section of the report titled “License for Designers” the report states that kill switches should be a requirement in the event of an emergency and that when creating their robots, designers should “respect human frailty, both physical and psychological.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The report acknowledges that the rapid rise of robots and AI has the potential to generate “virtually unbounded prosperity” but we shouldn’t forget the effect this could have on human employment levels and should consider whether the implementation of a basic income would be a way to offset this. 

The report doesn’t just touch on how robots will work for us, it also looks into how they’ll work with us. Robot/human relationships is still a relatively unexplored area, but the report asserts the importance of respecting human privacy and dignity when including video recording devices in machines and creating care robots. 

Human frailty

Things descend slightly into the realms of science fiction when the report discusses the possibility of the machines we build becoming more intelligent than us posing “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.” 

However, to stop us getting to this point the MEPs cite the importance of rules like those written by author Isaac Asimov for designers, producers, and operators of robots which state that: “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 by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law” and “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws.”

A great deal of responsibility appears to be placed on the designers of these robots, with the report suggesting that they be required to register their creations and provide access to their source codes. It’s possible designers may have to get permission to even build their designs from a yet-to-be-created ethics committee.

This isn't the first time government officials have called for AI legislation to be put in place; in October of last year, a UK parliamentary committee made similar requests to the UK government. It will be interesting to see when and if these suggestions will be put into place. We may still be in the early stages of the AI revolution but forward planning will be key to stability.