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EU Considers If Future Robots Have Legal Rights

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Should a robot be granted legal status with rights like human beings?

I know I saw a movie about this somewhere, but now it's a real-life question in the European Union. In a report by the Committee on Legal Affairs for the European Parliament, the government proposes laws on the creation and ethical treatment of smart robots.

The resolution says that robots, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence are poised to "unleash a new industrial revolution, which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched." There is a possibility that within a few decades, the report says, AI could surpass human intellectual capacity. (Maybe it was the movie, "AI.")

ABC's of AI

The proposed laws include guiding principles like prime directives (or was it a "Star Trek" movie?) for creators of artificially intelligent robots:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

In a footnote of the 22-page resolution, the authors pay tribute to Isaac Asimov for formulating the guiding principles. (See "Runabout" by Asimov, a short story that should be made into a movie.)

Other Creatures

While acknowledging the fine line between fact and fiction, the report says that mankind has long-recognized legal issues in the evolution of robots from Frankenstein's monster (no, it wasn't that movie) to Pygmalion (there actually was a movie in 1938, but didn't see it.)

The authors call for the creation of a European agency for robotics and artificial intelligence to provide technical, ethical, and regulatory expertise. The report also addresses the legal liabilities of robots, with suggestions that liability should be proportionate to the instructions given to the robot and its autonomy.

In releasing the report and proposed resolution, the committee referred it with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics. ("I, Robot," that was the movie!)

Americans may be ahead in making movies about robots, but those Europeans are way ahead in creating legal rights for them.

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