On 16 February 2017, on a proposal from Luxembourg MEP Mady Delvaux, the European Parliament adopted a resolution containing recommendations to the Commission on civil law rules on robotics. Although this text has no legal value, it allows Parliament to ask the Commission to present a proposal for a directive based on the elements of the resolution.
It is therefore necessary to analyse in detail the content of this text, particularly in that it sets out ambitions on what could become a right for robots at European level.
First of all, the European Parliament begins by demonstrating its awareness of the evolution of robots and the growing place they are likely to occupy in our society.
Based on historical references from the human imagination such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature, Pygmalion’s ancient myth, Prague’s golem or Karel’s robot Čapek, Parliament notes that technology in robots and artificial intelligence has largely passed the stage of the idea to the point of being on the point of triggering a new industrial revolution likely to affect society as a whole, which justifies the establishment of an appropriate legal framework including a precise definition of the concepts of robots and artificial intelligence without however seeking to slow down innovation.
According to Parliament, it is therefore necessary to allow innovation in robots and artificial intelligence to develop, since these entities can constitute an important vector for job creation and the realisation of profits in many areas of the economy, namely production, trade, but also transport, medical care, rescue, education and agriculture.
Nevertheless, the text also mentions the risk posed by artificial intelligence on a probable destruction of jobs which would primarily concern the least qualified jobs. Similarly, the possibility of extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority of individuals is highlighted.
The report takes into account the adoption of the General Regulation on Data Protection (GDPR) of 8 April 2016 and raises the idea of further measures to optimise data protection at European level.
Moreover, Parliament highlights the reality that the leading robotics and artificial intelligence states of the United States, China, Japan and South Korea have already begun to establish legal frameworks specific to these fields. In this connection, the text even implies that it is essential to regulate quickly on a European scale, the major risk being the imposition of a legal text from a third State.
At institutional level, Parliament calls on the Commission to consider the relevance of creating a specific EU agency responsible for robotics and artificial intelligence. One of its roles would be to manage a general European registration system for advanced robots.
As regards intellectual property, Parliament considers that the existing legal provisions may be sufficient to provide a framework for robotics, although specific examination is necessary for certain aspects.
The text states that robotics must respect the right to privacy and the right to the protection of personal data. Moreover, it is necessary to establish a high level of security for robotics systems, given that the free flow of data is one of the foundations of the digital economy and the development of robotics and artificial intelligence.
The report stresses the need to develop technical standards at international level and to organise tests of robots in real conditions.
As regards autonomous vehicles, the text calls on the Commission to adopt specific rules for autonomous cars, which are intended to influence a number of areas such as civil liability, road safety, the environment, data, ICT infrastructure and employment.
As regards liability, Parliament considers it essential that the Commission find a solution to the problem of the regime applicable to damage caused by robots. It therefore asks the Commission to submit a proposal for a legislative instrument on this subject. It would focus responsibility on the person who has the ability to minimize the risk of damage, and so that the responsibility is proportional to the degree of autonomy of the robot.
In addition, Parliament suggests the introduction of a compulsory insurance system with a specific fund.
It should also be noted that the report proposes amending certain international agreements such as the Vienna Convention of 8 November 1968 on Road Traffic and the Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Road Traffic Accidents, the aim being to simplify the rules of private international law in order to make it easier to regulate autonomous vehicles.
Finally, Parliament is in favour of the creation of a legal personality specific to robots, which would be applied to the most sophisticated elements.
The resolution also covers other subjects such as research and innovation, personal care robots, medical robots, the repair and improvement of the human body, education, employment and the environment. For example, the text strongly encourages research, provided that it is based on ethical rules that should be defined in Union law.