Robots Get Rights As ‘Robot People’

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The EU has voted to give a Bill of Rights to robots that will give them “electronic personhood” status in the eyes of the Law in anticipation of a new kind of industrial robot revolution.


The need for European Parliament’s legal affairs committee to vote in favour of extending rights to robots has come about in anticipation of a booming new age of robot, bot, and android development. The anticipated huge growth in this area of technology and the possible wide-scale effects on society have necessitated the laying down of some ground rules in order to enable the full economic exploitation of robotics and A.I., while safeguarding humanity.

What Are The Issues?

More robots with greater (artificial) intelligence, being produced in greater numbers, and having a greater impact on our work and home lives raises issues around privacy, human dignity, the human labour market, care to robots, and our physical safety if robot systems fail or are hacked.

The robot Bill of Rights (when completed) is therefore reported to be likely to cover issues like:

  • Control: With AI, robot intelligence could potentially surpass human intelligence. This could pose a threat to human survival. Safeguards will therefore be needed to allow the intelligence to be harnessed without it being able to pose a danger to humans.
  • Safeguards: Making sure that not only do robots remain in the service of humans, but also that they are unable to physically harm us. This could mean that designers, producers and operators of robots will need to comply with legislation which ensures that robots will act a certain way when they become self-aware i.e. in accordance with laws similar to those suggested by Isaac Asimov.
  • Off Switch: The need for the inclusion of a ‘Kill Switch’ in robots to give humans ultimate protection.
  • Job Security: The possible need for a universal basic income in EU member countries where jobs could be taken by AI or robots.
  • Technical Expertise: The possible need for a European agency that provides technical, ethical and regulatory expertise to those involved in robotics and AI.
  • Accountability: Robot designers may be required to register their robots, provide access to the source code, investigate any accidents and damage caused by their robots, and consult ethics committee about research for new robot designs.
  • Legal Issues: Decisions will need to be made about legal liabilities in relation to the results of robot behaviour, and to what degree an owner / designer is responsible for it, taking into account the robots instructions, level learning capability or autonomy.

What Happens Next?

Now that the EP’s legal affairs committee has voted in favour of “electronic personhood” for robots, the European Commission will now need to present a legislative proposal, and the full house/the European Parliament will vote on draft proposals in February.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and robotics are now being introduced into many aspects of businesses – e.g. IT systems, manufacture and production, customer service, and autonomous vehicles.

The fact that countries now feel the need to discuss the issues and produce guidelines and legislation for robots is a sign that a new kind of robot revolution may well be at hand. This could mean greater opportunities for businesses, but new laws will also mean new areas of legal responsibility and liability that businesses will need to become familiar with.

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