Written by Tatjana Evas,
Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have become one of the most prominent technological trends of our century. However, the swift increase in their use and development presents new and difficult challenges for our societies.
The aim of this consultation is to launch a broad based debate with a wide range of stakeholders on the European Parliament report on civil law rules on robotics ((2015/2103(INL)). The results of the consultation will feed into the European Parliamentary Research Service’s forthcoming ‘Cost of non-Europe on robotics and artificial intelligence’ report.
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This consultation specifically seeks views on how to best address the challenging ethical, economic, legal and social issues related to the developments in the area of robotics and AI for civil use, as identified in the report. The European Parliament will debate and vote on the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs in Plenary in February 2017. The current public consultation will also contribute to possible further European Parliament initiatives to represent citizen’s interests in the field. This consultation will contribute to assessing the feasibility and content of further potential EU policy initiatives on robotics and AI, to maximise the socio-economic opportunities provided by these technological developments for businesses, citizens and governments, and minimise possible negative disruptions.
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The development of robotics and AI raises legal and ethical issues that require prompt intervention at EU level. Technological development in the area of robotics and AI is currently happening throughout the EU, as well as in other regions of the world. In reaction to this innovation, Member States are developing different national legislation in various policy fields. These national regulatory discrepancies may potentially create obstacles to effective development of robotics in the EU, making the EU as a regional bloc less innovative and competitive in relation to other regions. The Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament believes that, due to the cross-border implications of these technologies, the best legislative option is a European one. While the European Commission can be expected to present one or more legislative proposals related to robotics and artificial intelligence, the European Parliament has decided to pave the way for such initiatives using its rights under Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Rule 46 of its Rules of Procedure.
As a result, on 20 January 2015, the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament (JURI Committee) decided to establish a Working Group (WG) on legal questions related to the development of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in the European Union. The WG, chaired by Mady Delvaux (S&D, Luxembourg), primarily aimed at drafting civil law rules linked to this subject-matter. Besides Members of the Committee on Legal Affairs, the Working Group also included Members representing the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL).
The draft report on civil law rules on robotics is a result of the work of the WG and consultations with experts and various stakeholders. The report outlines the European Parliament’s main framework and vision on the topic of robotics and AI. The current barriers and enablers in the area of robotics and AI in the EU
Developments in the area of robotics and AI have an enormous economic potential for the European Union. Growth in robotics and AI related industries can create real economic value and possibly have positive implications for individual and societies by improving the quality of life, health and the environment; for businesses by providing new business opportunities and for national economies and governments by driving economic prosperity and revenues. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that, by 2025, advanced robotics could have a worldwide economic impact in the range of US$1.7 trillion to 4.5 trillion annually.
To maximise the opportunities of this technological development, and minimise possible negative disruptions, EU policy makers urgently need to address a number of related challenges. Central to these is finding a balanced regulatory approach to robotics and AI developments that promotes and supports EU industrial innovation, productivity and competitiveness, while simultaneously providing citizens with high levels of security and health, protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, consumer protection and social security.
Broadly defined, six crosscutting key regulatory themes affect developments in the area of robotics and AI:
- rules on ethics;
- liability rules;
- connectivity, intellectual property, and flow of data;
- standardisation, safety and security;
- education and employment;
- institutional coordination and oversight.
1. Rules on ethics
Technological developments promise to improve citizens’ lives and abilities, specifically care of the elderly and healthcare. The economic prognosis for service robotics development forecasts a 300% growth in just six years, from €6.6 billion in 2014 to €17.05 billion by 2020. The market’s exponential growth is driven, among other things, by growing demand and technical innovation in medical and healthcare sectors. The increased possibilities of interpenetration between human and artificial intelligence systems have a potential for empowerment and economic growth, but also trigger a nuanced set of tensions or risks related to human safety, privacy, integrity, dignity, autonomy, and data ownership.
A guiding ethical framework for the design, production and use of robots is urgently needed. In this context, the absence of a common European definition of smart autonomous robots and their categories, and a lack of a commonly applied ethical framework for the design, production, and use of robots could bring new risks for citizens and consumers. The new powers and capabilities of these advanced robots, if unregulated, could be abused to potentially disastrous effect. There is consequently both potential and need for an improved European policy framework, which ensures that robotic and AI development is framed by ethical and legal principles and rules underlining and protecting European values enshrined, inter alia, in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The increased autonomy of robots also raises questions regarding their legal responsibility. Existing legal categories are unfitted to adequately define the legal nature of robots, and consequently attribute right and duties, including liabilities for damages. Under the current legal framework, robots cannot be held liable per se for acts or omissions that cause damage to third parties. In a scenario where a robot can take autonomous decisions, traditional rules are insufficient to activate a robot’s liability, since they would not allow identification of the party responsible for providing compensation, and to require this party to make good the damage caused.
The shortcomings of the current legal framework are apparent in the area of contractual liability (i.e. machine to machine contracts) and non-contractual liability (Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985) which highlights the need for a new, more up-to-date, legal framework.
3. Connectivity, intellectual property rights, and the flow of data
Also of concern in relation to the developments in robotics are the rules on connectivity, the flow of data and intellectual property rights. No legal provisions on intellectual property rights specifically apply to robotics. While existing EU legal regimes and doctrines on privacy, use of personal data and intellectual property rights can be applied to the area of robotics in general, certain areas require further consideration. Specifically, in relation to issues related to the ‘own intellectual creation’ of advanced autonomous robots, for copyrightable works produced by computers and robots, standards for the concepts of privacy by design and privacy by default, informed consent, and encryption, as well as use of personal data need to be clarified.
4. Standardisation, safety and security
Standardisation is an important factor to facilitate design, use, and trade in robots, as well as to foster competitiveness and market growth. In general, the EU has a strong position on safety and consumer protection standards. However, as the diversity and use of robotic products grows, there is a question as to whether existing standards are capable of covering all designs, application domains, and robot types.
These new products and industries require standardisation at European level to avoid market fragmentation and discrepancies. For example, at least seven EU Member States, including Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, are now in the process of developing a new regulatory framework for the testing and use of autonomous vehicles. These divergent regulatory approaches have the potential to lead not only to a fragmentation of the applicable standards and regulatory rules within the European market, but also to a negative effect on the EU’s competitiveness in the global arena.
European industry could benefit from a coherent approach to regulation at European level. EU regulation could provide predictable and sufficiently clear conditions for enterprises to develop applications and plan their business models on a European scale, while ensuring that the EU and its Member States maintain control over regulatory standards, and are not to be forced to adopt standards set by other regions.
5. Education and employment
In the short to medium term, robotics and AI promise the benefits of efficiency and savings, not only in production and commerce, but also in areas such as transport, medical care, education, and farming, while making it possible to avoid exposing humans to dangerous conditions, such as those faced when cleaning up toxically polluted sites. The development of robotics and AI can increase European companies’ competitiveness, which could lead to the creation of more jobs.
At the same time, robotics and AI developments may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, which raises concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems if the current basis of taxation is maintained. This process could ultimately contribute to creating a potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence.
A modernisation and revision of European legislation is therefore necessary to ensure that citizens also benefit from a high level of social protection in the digital age. This may include consideration of issues related to new financial options, such as a tax on robots, or a compulsory insurance scheme linked to the obligation for a robot producer to take out an insurance policy covering potential robotic damage or failure.
In addition, education and training policies, including vocational training, lifelong learning and training and re-training at work, should be revised in the light of the changing dynamics of the labour market and new skills and competences required due to increased use of robots and automation.
6. Institutional coordination and oversight
Currently, robotics and AI aspects are covered by different regulatory agencies and institutions at national and EU levels. No central EU body exists to provide the technical, ethical, and regulatory expertise, and oversight of developments in the area of robotics and AI. This lack of coordination hinders timely and well-informed responses to the new opportunities and challenges arising from these technological developments.
The six crosscutting key regulatory themes identified in the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs draft report concern a wide range of policy areas. The policy areas where, according to the Committee’s position, action is necessary as a matter of priority include: the automotive sector, care of the elderly, healthcare, and drones.
Video “The Ethics of Cyber-Physical Systems”