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Electronic Person: Why the EU Discusses Robot’s Rights


Mariia Koval, attorney at Ilyashev & Partners Law Firm
Source: European Pravda

European Parliament voted to consider the Draft Resolution on Robots’ Legal Status declaring the robots as “electronic persons”.

This news has already given rise to a number of jokes trying to prove that the European lawmakers simply have nothing to do. Nevertheless, in fact the European Parliament raised a very serious issue, which the Ukrainian parliamentarians shall face sooner or later.

This is why it makes sense to consider the EU initiatives.

It is well-known that currently robots occupy an important position in different spheres of our life. Moreover, certain sectors, for instance industry, space and healthcare, cannot be imagined without robots. Currently there are about 1.7 million robots (androids, bots etc.) in the world, although their use is not sufficiently regulated.

First of all, the development of robotic vehicles caused the necessity to elaborate the resolution on the legal status of robots.

Who shall be liable for damages caused by robotic vehicles? What compensation rights shall the injured be entitled to?

The Draft Resolution sets forth the major liability to the manufacturers. It binds the manufacturers and owners of these robotic vehicles to have insurance. However, the Draft also envisages the shared liability of the manufacturer and owner depending on the situation.

The Draft Resolution calls for robots to be classified as “electronic persons” exercising special rights and liabilities. In fact, it is fair to say that the Draft offers to provide robots with human rights instead of setting forth the ordinary legal frameworks for their usage and application.

As the Resolution’s author noted, “the robots can not be considered as simple tools in the hands of their owners; as a consequence, it becomes more and more urgent to address the fundamental question of whether robots should possess a legal status”.

The decision of the European Parliament on providing the robots with legal status of “electronic person” will be announced in February.

What does this status mean?

The Resolution establishes general and ethical principles regarding the development of robotics and artificial intelligence for civil use that should be accountable for the social, environmental and human health impacts that robotics may impose, and could lay the groundwork for the compliance of robotics with legal, ethical and safety standards.

For instance, for safety reasons the Resolution obliges robot designers to integrate into the robots the kill switches to switch off the robot in case of emergency.

On the whole, the Resolution aims at regulating the robots legal status in human society, whereas it proposes the following:
– create a special European Agency for robotics and artificial intelligence;
– establish the definition of “smart autonomous robot”;
– introduce a system of registration of advanced robots together with their classification criteria;
– oblige robot designers to guarantee the absence of risks of injuries or damages that robots might entail;
– introduce a new corporate reporting structure for companies requiring the use of robots, on the contribution of robotics and artificial intelligence to the economic results of a company.

Concerning the employment of robotics to “human” positions the Resolution calls to establish the special obligatory reports for the companies using robots in their activities on the savings made in social security contributions through the use of robotics in place of human personnel.

It is evident that the use of robots shall enable the companies to avoid social contributions making significant savings, not mentioning that robots do not get sick, tired and do not complain about their employers. Nevertheless, the cost of such robots and their maintenance for many of the companies, especially for the small ones, shall exceed the expenses for wages and duties of human personnel.

Is there a mass unemployment threat for people due to the robots application in different spheres of our lives?

On the whole the increase of robots application in different spheres may certainly cause the unemployment to people working in certain sectors.

Indeed, today robots take over the great amount of work being done by humans. Apparently, our future will be closely connected to biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and therefore robots shall indisputably replace the human resources in certain spheres of our lives.

However, it is impossible to state that robots shall cause the mass unemployment, as there are many kinds of works already taken over by robotics that when done by humans require a great amount of time or cannot be fulfilled by humans at all.

It is also worth to mention that there are currently no legal provisions in the area of intellectual property that specifically apply to copyrightable works produced by computers or robots. Therefore, the Resolution calls on Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics to elaborate criteria for an own intellectual creation for such works.

The Resolution definitely cannot foresee today all provisions, standards and rules applicable to robots and artificial intelligence, as the technologies advance impressively fast and it is hard to predict the humankind’s progress in relation to artificial intelligence.

In any case, the European Union is getting on the understanding of the increased impact of robotics on human life and the necessity to elaborate the rules for its design and application.

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