Robot, AI Debate Launched in EU With Resolution

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By Stephen Gardner

The European Union should move quickly to fill gaps in its regulatory framework in the face of the development of autonomous driving systems, drones, care robots and other artificial intelligence devices and systems, European Parliament lawmakers said Feb. 16.

In particular, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, should propose legislation to clarify the liability regime around robots, and measures should be taken to encourage a common understanding of ethical issues related to robots, including through the establishment of a European agency for robotics that would provide “technical, ethical and regulatory expertise,” lawmakers said.

The lawmakers’ recommendations were contained in a resolution adopted by the parliament at a session in Strasbourg, France. Lawmakers backed the resolution by 396-123, with 85 abstentions.

Lilian Edwards, professor of e-governance at the United Kingdom’s Strathclyde University, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that the resolution was significant because it was the “first move towards actually envisaging legislation” on emerging robotics and AI technologies.

The parliament’s resolution is not binding but seeks to push the issue of regulation of robotics up the agenda of the commission, which is responsible for proposing common rules for the 28 EU countries. The commission must respond to the resolution, even if it is to say it will not follow up on the recommendations.

Liability Concerns

The resolution said a legislative proposal would be necessary to amend EU product liability rules because “in the scenario where a robot can take autonomous decisions, the traditional rules will not suffice to give rise to legal liability for damage caused by a robot.”

EU rules currently only cover manufacturing defects and don’t provide for situations in which harm arises from autonomous decisions taken by robots, the resolution said.

For some robot categories including self-driving vehicles, the commission should consider proposing the set up of a compulsory scheme that would oblige producers and owners of robots to pay into a compensation fund which would pay out if their robots cause harm, it said.

The resolution added that an EU-wide registration system for “advanced robots” could also be created, which could be managed by the suggested European robotics agency.

In addition, developers working on robotics could sign up to an ethical code under which they would promise to respect the rights of EU citizens, including privacy rights, and would design “reversibility” into their robots so that users of robots could “undo undesired actions,” the resolution said.

Kickstarting a Debate

Mady Delvaux, a center-left lawmaker from Luxembourg who drafted the resolution, said in a European Parliament debate on robotics Feb. 15 that the resolution was intended to “trigger a debate” at a time when “we need to organize this for the good of mankind.”

The regulatory framework should ensure that autonomous decisions taken by robots are “explained and explicable,” Delvaux said.

Edwards said that the EU should move cautiously with legislation intended to govern robots. She said that in some areas, such as compulsory insurance, a European robotics agency and a code of conduct for engineers, Delvaux’s proposals were “over the top.”

To govern autonomous vehicles, for example, “most of the existing regulation of cars can be applied with a bit of tweaking,” Edwards said. Insurance systems should be allowed to develop as more data on the risks becomes available, she said.

Some of the measures proposed by lawmakers could be “too much too soon,” leading to a “danger of stifling innovation,” Edwards said.

The commission gave a guarded response to the lawmakers’ proposals on robotics.

Carlos Moedas, the EU’s research and innovation commissioner, said at the Feb. 15 debate that the lawmakers’ proposals needed “in-depth consultation and further analysis of their consequences before we can draw conclusions, including on the possible legislative needs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at daplin@bna.com

For More Information

The European Parliament resolution on civil law rules on robotics is available at http://bit.ly/2lmorKW.

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