The decision by an influential EU Parliamentary Committee to approve what’s been described by critics and proponents alike as a robot “bill of rights” back in January has ignited a fierce backlash and prompted a group of dozens of AI researchers to write a scathing letter criticizing the EU’s approach to regulating robots.
In the open letter, 156 robotics and AI experts from 14 countries blasted the EU for trying to enforce “nonsensical” and “non-pragmatic” regulations that ultimately could violate people’s rights.
Here’s more from EuroNews:
In an open letter, more than 150 experts in robotics, artificial intelligence, law, medical science and ethics, warned the Commission against approving a proposal that envisions a special legal status of “electronic persons” for the most sophisticated, autonomous robots.
“Creating a legal status of electronic ‘person’ would be ideological and nonsensical and non-pragmatic,” the letter says.
The group said the proposal, which was approved in a resolution by the European Parliament last year, is based on a perception of robots “distorted by science fiction and a few recent sensational press announcements.”
“From an ethical and legal perspective, creating a legal personality for a robot is inappropriate”, they argued, explaining that doing so could breach human rights law.
Around the world, and in both the manufacturing and service economies, robotics is making swift gains as the number of industrial robots in circulation has climbed dramatically in recent years. According to projections published by Reuters IFR, their numbers will double again by 2020.
China has emerged as the unrivaled leader in the race to dominate AI and robotics, bringing to mind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prediction that whichever power dominated the AI arms race would go on the “rule the world.”
Elon Musk famously warned that, if governments don’t pass responsible regulations soon, the plot of the “Terminator” Series could become a reality.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Communist Party is building the first entirely AI-run police station.
The crux of the debate between EU lawmakers and scientists is a paragraph in an EU-commissioned report from 2017 which suggests that robots with the ability to learn should be granted “electronic personalities”, allowing them (yes, the robots, not their owners or manufacturers) to be held liable for civil and legal penalties, according to Politico Europe.
The battle goes back to a paragraph of text, buried deep in a European Parliament report from early 2017, which suggests that self-learning robots could be granted “electronic personalities.” Such a status could allow robots to be insured individually and be held liable for damages if they go rogue and start hurting people or damaging property.
Those pushing for such a legal change, including some manufacturers and their affiliates, say the proposal is common sense. Legal personhood would not make robots virtual people who can get married and benefit from human rights, they say; it would merely put them on par with corporations, which already have status as “legal persons,” and are treated as such by courts around the world.
But as robots and artificial intelligence become hot-button political issues on both sides of the Atlantic, MEP and vice chair of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee, Mady Delvaux, and other proponents of legal changes face stiffening opposition.
In the letter, the scientists protested the idea of giving robots rights, arguing that much more strict regulations are necessary to ensure that robots never gain the capability to harm humans (unless they’re specifically designed for that purpose, like South Korea’s “killer robots” weapons systems that have ignited a boycott by the scientific community that bears some resemblance to the situation in the EU).
They also make the case that granting robots rights like people would in itself violate human rights.
A legal status for a robot can’t derive from the Natural Person model, since the robot would then hold human rights, such as the right to dignity, the right to its integrity, the right to remuneration or the right to citizenship, thus directly confronting the Human rights. This would be in contradiction with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
While the issue of regulating AI and robotics has only just made it to the media’s radar (and to be sure, many pundits quoted in the mainstream press have continued to advise that robots are still decades away from the type of artificial intelligence that would enable them to “go rogue,” as the scientists put it) the battle for responsible regulation is unfolding before our very eyes.
The only question is: Once humanity achieves the capability to build a real-life SkyNet, will it quickly set to work? Or will governments and corporations listen to the exhortations of the scientific community and put safety and responsibility before everything else (including profits)?
Right now, it’s difficult to say.
Read the full letter here:
“The European Union must prompt the development of the AI and Robotics industry insofar as to limit health and safety risks to human beings,” the letter said. “The protection of robots’ users and third parties must be at the heart of all EU legal provisions.”