In a 17-2 vote, with two abstentions, the parliament’s legal affairs committee passed the report, which outlines one possible framework for regulation.
“A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics,” said the report’s author, Luxembourgish MEP Mady Delvaux. “In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”.
The proposed legal status for robots would be analogous to corporate personhood, which allows firms to take part in legal cases both as the plaintiff and respondent. “It is similar to what we now have for companies, but it is not for tomorrow,” said Delvaux. “What we need now is to create a legal framework for the robots that are currently on the market or will become available over the next 10 to 15 years.”
The broad report identifies a number of areas in need of specific oversight from the European Union, including:
- The creation of a European agency for robotics and AI;
- A legal definition of “smart autonomous robots”, with a system of registration of the most advanced of them;
- An advisory code of conduct for robotics engineers aimed at guiding the ethical design, production and use of robots;
- A new reporting structure for companies requiring them to report the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions
- A new mandatory insurance scheme for companies to cover damage caused by their robots.
The report also takes special interest in the future of autonomous vehicles, arguing that self-driving cars are “in most urgent need of European and global rules”. “Fragmented regulatory approaches would hinder implementation and jeopardise European competitiveness,” it continues.
It also addresses the risk that overly competitive robots could result in large-scale unemployment, and calls for the “serious” examination of a general basic income as one possible solution.
Ashley Morgan, of international legal practice Osborne Clarke, says that the proposals will be “extremely controversial.”
“One could argue that, effectively, a law of the nature proposed in this resolution would grant human rights to robots. That’s not going to go down easy with companies that are creating robots and AIs,” he told the Guardian.
“If I create a robot, and that robot creates something that could be patented, should I own that patent or should the robot? If I sell the robot, should the intellectual property it has developed go with it? These are not easy questions to answer, and that goes right to the heart of this debate,” Morgan added.
The full house of the European Parliament will vote on the draft proposals in February, which will need to be approved by absolute majority.