What legal rights should a robot have? Polo Sant'Anna Valdera is one of the leading research centres for robotics. As technology advances, its staff see this question as increasingly important. Innovation raises new legal and ethical issues. The European Parliament wants to address these issues so robotics continues to flourish in 2017.
From industrial robots to medical equipment, drones, toys or domestic appliances, robotics and artificial intelligence are increasingly becoming a part of our daily life. The European Parliament is the first institution in the world trying to legislate on legal and ethical issues related to artificial intelligence. There is a huge revolution underway because there are already many robots, and there will be more in the future, in all areas of life. I've convinced the Committee on Legal Affairs to set up a working party to specifically focus on the legal and ethical implications of robotics for our society. In Pisa, the Sant'Anna Institute, an important centre for robotics, is part of the European project Robolaw. Here, researchers are studying the question of robots' liability and other legal aspects. For them, the interest of the European Parliament in such issues is positive and paves the way for a new approach towards robotics. Even if the task is complicated. The world of robotics is a huge field, so if the approach is too general, you risk failing to address the core issue. Andrea Bertolini is an expert in private law. For him, robots are not like any other product, though current laws are applied to them. Those laws were developed having different kinds of devices in mind, so the solutions they bring about may not be the best solutions when it comes to robotics. In case of an accident caused by a robot, a driverless car for example, who is liable? In principle, the driver no longer has any responsibility, so the question arises, who is going to cover the insurance? Is it the producer? Is it the programmer? Is it the user? This is a very complicated and expensive question to answer. It makes much more sense to hold liable the party that is the best placed to minimize that cost and minimize that risk. This is what I call a "risk management approach". In that scenario, I or the producer could purchase an insurance covering all costs associated with that liability. Not only are more and more autonomous robots getting closer to the market, but in laboratories, engineers are designing robots with the capacity to learn from their environment, their experience, and to take independent decisions. 'Please take the bottle.' Because there, you have to ask whether the programmer should always be responsible for the action because the environment will have an influence on the robot. For the European Parliament, a possible answer might be to give that category of robots an e-personality. Electronic personhood means treating robots like a corporation, a legal entity that has some rights and obligations that are purely instrumental to pursue a specific economic interest of a human being. Another major concern for the European Parliament is the ethical issues raised by robotics. Not least, the dependency relationship that might develop between a human and a robot, in particular in the case of vulnerable people. We have to make sure that vulnerable people are not led to believe that robots are actually capable of experiencing emotions, which machines cannot have. Finally, could legislating on all these issues hamper innovation? Quite the contrary, this could be a driver for growth in the sector, because having legal certainty will encourage research and industrial development. Developing standards is of a strategic relevance because those that will emerge, they might become American standards, they might be international standards. If they are European standards, it's clear that European industries will be at an advantage. We are in a good time because the Member States have not yet created legislation, so we can offer a framework to serve as inspiration for the Member States to establish rules that will be applicable throughout the European Union.