Beating your robot might get you in real trouble with legal authorities in the near future. Recently the European Parliament discussed the introduction of an “electronic personhood” for robots. As personhood describes the status of being an actual person, this decision raises big questions about equality, citizenship, legal and ironically, human rights for artificial intelligent machines.
Looking at history, from the old myth of Pygmalion, to Merry Shelley’s Frankenstein, through Karel Čapek’s first use of the word “robot”, you will quickly notice that mankind has always had an obsession with building human like smart machines. Now more then ever intelligent robots are crafted and put on our planet, unleashing a new industrial insurgency affecting every corner of our world population. Mostly employed in big industrial factories, these smart machines are now also taking on responsibility in areas such as medical practice, personal care and instruction. Leaving behind a big question mark about human unemployment and a false dispersion of wealth.
The planned legal status for artificial intelligent machines would be similar to the highly disputed corporate person hood allowing companies to participate in legal cases on both sides. Though this is not what the Parliament wants for the future. The expected regulations should also contain principles about the definition of “smart autonomous machines”, their registration and the use of an advisory code for robotic producers in order to ethically guide the design and employment of robotics. In the future robots owners might also face taxation and social security contributions, as well as insurance for possible damage caused by their new companions.
In order to protect humans, European lawmakers have proposed to equip robots with emergency “kill switches”. They must have been inspired by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s rules for self-aware robots, which state that: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Also a robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law. Followed by the third rule: a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second rule. The laws discussed in science fiction decades ago are coming to life and building the framework for the actual legislation.