Paranormal Phenomena

Should robots be given their own legal status as ‘electronic persons’? EU ministers want to enforce laws on machines to guarantee safety

MEPs have warned that robots need to be fitted with 'kill switches' to prevent a Terminator-style uprising against humans

With the robotics industry rapidly growing, MEPs have warned that rules are needed to ‘guarantee a standard level of safety and security.’

In a resolution voted today, MEPs are asking the EU Commission to enforce regulatory standards for robotics, and have stressed that the key issue lies with self-driving cars.

They have suggested that a European agency for robotics and artificial intelligence should be set up, to supply public authorities with technical, ethical and regulatory expertise.

They also asked for specific legal status for robots as ‘electronic persons’ in the long run, in order to establish who is liable if they cause damage.

MEPs have warned that robots need to be fitted with ‘kill switches’ to prevent a Terminator-style uprising against humans

Regulatory standards for robots are already being planned in several countries, including the US.

And MEPs think that the EU should be taking the lead in setting these standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third countries.

Mady Delvaux, a Socialist MEP from Luxembourg, led the campaign and warned that Europe is passively standing by as robots take an increasingly powerful role that will turn even stronger with the emergence of driverless cars.

A statement published by the European Parliament said: ‘MEPs stress that draft legislation is urgently needed to clarify liability issues, especially for self-driving cars.’

Auto builders want to see robotic cars on the roads by 2020, but difficult questions remain on who would be legally liable in the case of a car crash.

‘If all decisions of a machine are no longer directly attributable to the actions of a person, it must be clarified who is liable if something goes wrong,’ said Greens MEP Julia Reda, who backed the report.

MEPs also asked the Commission to consider creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run, in order to establish who is liable if they cause damage.

The statement added: ‘The growing use of robotics also raises ethical issues, for example to do with privacy and safety.

‘They propose a voluntary ethical code of conduct on robotics for researchers and designers to ensure that they operate in accordance with legal and ethical standards and that robot design and use respect human dignity.’

Without such rules, ‘humanity could face the apocalyptic scenario where robots turn on their human masters,’ Ms Delvaux warned in an interview with EU affairs website EuroActiv.

The resolution was easily passed with 396 votes to 123, with 85 abstentions.

The Commission will not be obliged to follow the Parliament’s recommendations, but must state its reasons if it refuses.

However, the European Parliament refused a request for special income for those who lose their jobs to automation.

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