BRUSSELS bureaucrats are considering transferring human rights to robots if artificial intelligence (AI) becomes so powerful that droids end up thinking for themselves.
Ahead of today’s historic “in/out” vote for Britain, it has emerged the EU wants to introduce laws specific to robots that could give them civil rights regulations of they own, and see limits on how many jobs they could replace from humans.
In scenes that could have come from the sic-fi novels of Isaac Asimov nearly 70 years ago, a recommendation of the European Parliament to the EU Commission has suggested in the future sentient AI robots could need their own rights and responsibilities, and strict laws banning them from taking over too many jobs across the Continent may become necessary.
In the 1950s Asimov predicted robots would eventually have to adhere to laws, because the potential of what could develop from a combination of sophisticated mechanism, androids with human features, and artificial intelligence (AI) was too dangerous.
But, it appears Brussels bureaucrats fear this fiction will become a reality and the report has even considered including a “new robot category next to natural and lawful people: the electronic person”.
The report suggests AI could “surpass human intelligence within a few decades”.
Some members of European Parliament fear that without the controls humans may no longer be in charge of their own fate.
If Asimov’s predictions are being followed by the EU leaders, then a blueprint already exists.
The author already outlined the “three laws of robotics” in his novel, that inspired Hollywood Blockbuster I Robot in 2004.
These were that a robot must not harm any human, he has to obey them, and cannot harm humanity.
EU politicians point towards the fact that robots could become or be made self-aware by means of artificial intelligence.
Its report says robots “would be equipped with certain rights and responsibilities and be held responsible for any damages caused”.
In future, these machines could be classed and registered as ‘intelligent robots’ and be supervised by the European agency for robotics and artificial intelligence, the report continues.
Even a mandatory insurance has been suggested by EU MPs, which would say that the manufacturer of the autonomous robot needs to arrange insurance, against any ill effects of their creations.
The insurance system could possibly be supplemented by a “higher level fund”.
The ideas of the MEPs are not restricted to robots in factory buildings of big manufacturers.
There are also varied questions, ethical and otherwise, about further electronic species, for example carer robots, medicinal robots, autonomous cars and drones, says the report.
There is also talk of limiting how many human jobs can be replaced by AI and robots amid fears it will create mass unemployment across the EU.
But discussions over restricting jobs which robots can do has angered manufacturers and not met with universal appeal.
Germany’s engineering industry has already warned of EU overzealousness, as it used a robot exhibition in Munich as a platform to clarify the views of the industry.
But the growing number of robots is something that worries EU bureaucrats.
They point to the fact that the sales of robots have increased yearly by 17 per cent between 2010 and 2014.
The applications for robot technology patents has even tripled within a decade.
Germany has, after Korea and Japan, the highest density of robots.
Last year nearly a quarter million robots were sold worldwide, a record according to the International Federation of Robotics.
There is apparently no end in sight for the growth, and worldwide, it could mean as many as 2.3 million in operation by 2018 – twice as many as there were in 2009.
The fear in Brussels is that huge numbers of manufacturing jobs currently done by humans could soon be carried out by robots, says a report by the EU Commission.
The trade group VDMA, that is connected to leading German machine engineering and robot companies like Kuka, say most of these fear still belong in the realm of sci-fi.
Instead the group emphasises the advantages of digitalisation.
These bring “immense chances for Europe’s economy”, but only if the laws won’t hinder the development prematurely, it said in a statement.
They fear space for innovation would be limited for no real reason.
Thilo Brodtmann, VDMA CEO, said: “We can’t predict yet how the people will produce and consume things in five to 10n years.
“Being this overzealous, the politicians are limiting room for innovation and endanger the development of the 4.0 industry in Europe.
“It might be the right thing to do to have these discussions within a lawful context, but it was ‘way too early to discuss details like robot registries or social security contributions’.”
According VDMA the “work colleague robot” does not destroy jobs overall.
Patrick Schwarzkopf of the Automatica in Munich said: “We can see the number of jobs rising.
“In the German car industry the number of robots has risen by 17 per cent since 2010 and the number of jobs by 13 per cent.
“Robots take over difficult and dangerous jobs. This increases productivity and makes jobs safer.”
Ulrich Walwei of the IAB of the Bundesagentur fuer Arbeit, however, disagrees.
According to him there are three to four million jobs in Germany that robots could soon do up to 70 per cent of, so the jobs are therefore under threat.
He said: “All in all the digitalisation could stay industry neutral since the responsibilities would also arise in the service industry.
“The increase in productivity through robots could also lead to lower prices.”
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