Robot Rights Debate Could Shape Automation’s Future in Europe and Beyond | Robotics

Robot Rights Debate Could Shape Automation’s Future in Europe and Beyond


Last year, a report to the European Parliament proposed giving robots legal rights and responsibilities. Policy makers are now debating about the report’s recommendations. If they pass laws granting rights, they would change the of in the European Union. Here are two of the report’s proposals:

  • A new requirement for companies to report the contribution of robotics and AI to their economic results for the purposes of taxation and social security contributions
  • A new mandatory insurance scheme for companies to cover damage caused by their robots

The idea of giving robot rights or personhood has divided the EU. In April, more than 150 people in robotics, AI, the law, and other fields wrote to the European Commission, warning that robot rights would infringe on human rights.

What’s taking place in the EU is part of a global phenomenon. Governments from Europe to Asia to North America are looking at policies to keep up with rapidly evolving robots and artificial intelligence. These range from outright bans to legal protections to new taxes. As public policies for automation emerge, robotics suppliers, integrators, and end users will face new challenges.


This year, RoboBusiness includes four conferences to make it easier for you to find the information you need most. Whether you are involved in running a robotics business, designing products, or implementing robotics solutions in your company – we have a conference to meet your needs.


Fear drives politics

Politics is driving debates around robot rights and other issues. And the driving force for politics is worries over automation taking jobs. Certain countries have a high perceived automation risk. Because of this, such countries have the greatest potential for “extreme” policies for and against robot rights to emerge.

For example, China has started trials where human farmers are being replaced with robots. The goal is to boost efficiency and yield production. However, in China, 250 million people, or 18% of the population, are farmers.

In the Philippines, automation is threatening millions of call-center jobs. Hundreds of thousands of workers could lose their jobs as companies turn to chatbots and AI services such as Google Duplex. There are dozens of other examples around the world.

While the “politics of automation” is being driven by jobs, there are other catalysts as well. Equally important are policies around content that AI creates (i.e., music or art), policies for what happens when a robot messes up (i.e., sentencing someone the wrong way or messing up a surgery), and ethics for robots themselves (i.e., how robots should behave).

Each of these robotics policy areas is subject to competitive and geopolitical interests, creating another level of challenges for companies. Governments could create legal frameworks for AI-created content that clash with those of other countries.

Or, ethics rules would reflect regional and cultural differences as nations mandate that robots come loaded with certain behavior restrictions.

All of this is creating an unfamiliar, uncertain, and volatile future for robotics firms and policy makers.

Learn how to navigate robot rights, geopolitics

To help you navigate, I will be presenting “Implementing Automation: What Are the Political and Economic Considerations?” on Sept. 26, during the Chief Robotics Officer (CRO) Summit at RoboBusiness 2018 in Santa Clara, Calif.

It will be one of the first such sessions at any robotics conference in the world. In it, I will provide attendees with an in-depth look at automation policies governments are considering, such as the EU’s proposed robot rights, and what kind of changes we can expect in the future.

Any robotics firms thinking they can stay under the government’s radar will fail. And any policy maker who thinks that rules for automation aren’t important will be blamed for failing to look ahead.

Just like in the past, when “big tobacco,” “big oil,” and “big pharma” all eventually had to deal with government scrutiny, so too will “big robo” have to be ready for policy debates and laws around automation.

But unlike in the past, when regulatory reactions were similar, policies for automation may be radically different from country to country. What China does will be different from Canada; what Australia does will be different to Austria.

As every country makes initial moves, we can get a glimpse of what else could happen around robot rights, workforce concerns, taxation, and cybersecurity. I hope that you’ll register for RoboBusiness and join the discussion at my session.

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