Foreseeing a rapidly approaching age of autonomous artificial intelligence, a European Parliament committee has voted to legally bestow electronic personhood to robots. The status includes a detailed list of rights, responsibilities, regulations, and a “kill switch.”
The committee voted by 17 votes to two, with two abstentions, to approve a draft report written by Luxembourg MEP Mady Delvaux, who believes “robots, bots, androids and other manifestations of artificial intelligence” will spawn a new industrial revolution. She wants to establish a European Agency to develop rules for how to govern AI behavior. Specifically, Delvaux writes about how increased levels of autonomy in robot entities will make usual manufacturing liability laws insufficient. It will become necessary, the report states, to be able to hold robots and their manufacturers legally responsible for their acts.
The rules will also affect AI developers, who, according to the report, will have to engineer robots in such a way that they can be controlled. This includes a “kill switch,” a mechanism by which rogue robots can be terminated or shut down remotely.
The report acknowledges that robots and automation continue to intrude on the human workforce while noting that in certain instances — the cleanup of industrial waste and toxic pollutants, for example — this will be advantageous. However, Delvaux does not believe robots will completely replace humans in the near future; she believes they will work together.
Despite this optimistic note, she issued a stern warning:
“Ultimately there is a possibility that within the space of a few decades AI could surpass human intellectual capacity in a manner which, if not prepared for, could pose a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and, consequently, perhaps also to its capacity to be in charge of its own destiny and to ensure the survival of the species.”
The report also notes the “potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence.”
This echoes a different warning issued by Stephen Hawking, who believes the combination of capitalism and automation holds the potential for emboldening a globalist oligarchy with disastrous levels of human inequality. An automated, machine-based economic system, Hawking believes, may pose a bigger existential threat to humans than the malevolent killer robots depicted in popular science fiction films.
“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” Hawking states.
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
Will Delvaux’s European Agency of robot regulations do anything to help curb economic inequality? Likely not, but it sounds as if at least some European leaders are taking seriously the idea of a sea change in robotics and artificial intelligence in the coming decade. The question that remains is how viable it is to think government can or should constrain exponentially advancing artificial intelligence with regulations.
The next step for the report is the full house, where it must receive a majority of votes to be ratified.