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Treat robots as “electronic persons” but with kill switches, argue MEPs

Kelly Fiveash
Humans, Channel 4
It's quite possible that MEPs have been watching far too many episodes of Humans, after a framework was proposed to consider whether autonomous robots should be granted the status of "electronic persons with specific rights and obligations."
On Thursday, politicos sitting on the EU's legal affairs committee approved an AI-related liability and safety report by 17 votes to two, with two abstentions. It was penned by MEP Mady Delvaux. She said that a "robust European legal framework" was "urgently" needed to address the apparent growth in the use of robotics for citizens' daily lives.
Setting something of an alarmist tone, Delvaux added that the bloc needed "to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans."
The highly contentious report—which heavily relies on guesswork about the type of AI and robotics tech we might be dealing with in the future—calls for a raft of regulatory changes. It recommends the creation of a new European agency for robotics to help tackle ethical conduct around the tech.
In the UK recently, the science and technology committee similarly urged the government to consider setting up a watchdog that probes the ethical, social, and legal implications of developments in AI. But—as noted by the Royal Society—while machine learning is starting to seep into society, development of deeply sophisticated human-level AI remains a long way off.
Nonetheless, MEPs on the legal affairs committee agreed that designers must adhere to a code that insists that a "kill switch" is built into robots so that they "can be turned off in emergencies."
Liability was also heavily pondered in Delvaux's report. It said that the European Commission should, among other things, mull:
creating a specific legal status for robots, so that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause, and applying electronic personality to cases where robots make smart autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.
It would seem that such a "electronic persons" status would be akin to corporate personhood—which treats a business entity as an "artificial person." Indeed, human beings are referred to as "natural persons" in the European Convention on Human Rights.
As an aside, a recent copyright case brought by PETA was chucked out by a judge after the animal rights' group failed to argue that a monkey named Naruto had "the right to own and benefit from the copyright in the Monkey Selfies in the same manner and to the same extent as any other author."
Delvaux's report also suggested that makers of driverless cars should be members of an obligatory insurance scheme, paying into a compensation pot that would cover damage claims.
A general basic income for humans was also put forward by the committee as something that "should be seriously considered" in case the "labour market of robots and AI" leads to job losses.
The draft proposals will be voted on by the full house of European Parliament in February. In order to proceed, the controversial plans need to be approved by absolute majority.
Treat robots as “electronic persons” but with kill switches, argue MEPs Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 9:02 PM Rating: 5

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