Civil law rules on robotics: the resolution of the European Union

The constant development of robots equipped with artificial intelligence has made it necessary to acknowledge the complexity of current robotics and its implications, both ethical and social.

The resolution of the European Parliament of 16 February 2017, containing recommendations to the Commission regarding civil law rules on robotics, highlights how the need to regulate the use of robots and artificial intelligence, both in industrial activities and in private life, is now urgent.

The parliamentary resolution: introduction

The resolution begins with presenting some facts and data: in 2014, robot sales growth was 29%, after years in which it was stable at 17%, and patent applications for robotic technologies tripled during the last decade.

Humanity is on the threshold of an era in which robots and other manifestations of artificial intelligence are initiating a new industrial revolution, which will affect all social strata. For legislation, it is therefore essential to consider the possible implications and consequences, both legal and ethical, without hindering innovation.

The resolution also underlines the importance of establishing a common European definition of intelligent autonomous robots, taking note of features such as:

  • the ability to learn, thanks to experience and interaction, and the ability to acquire autonomy through the exchange of data with the environment and the analysis of them;
  • the physical support of the robot;
  • the ability to adapt the behavior and actions to the surrounding environment.

Civil law rules on robotics: the liability

The Resolution then presents the general principles and various considerations: it is necessary to establish rules disciplining transparency and accountability, as well as its assumption; given the stage reached in the development of robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence), it is appropriate to start with civil liability issues.

Civil liability for possible damage caused by robots, which will conquer an increasingly important role within our daily lives, is precisely one of the major focuses of the resolution; the revolutionary cornerstone we are witnessing, and which we will see more and more of, is the role of robots predisposed to learn on the basis of their own experience, which makes them able to perform actions not foreseeable by the manufacturer.

In the event that a robot is able to make decisions autonomously, the traditional rules are not sufficient to activate the responsibility for the damage caused by it: they would not, in fact, allow the determination of the person who is responsible for the compensation.

Parliamentary resolution, the proposed solutions

At the end of the resolution, the European Parliament invites the Commission to explore and evaluate the implications of all possible legal solutions, among which we mention:

  • the establishment of a specific legal status for robots, so that autonomous robots can be considered as “electronic people”, therefore responsible for compensating for any damage caused;
  • the establishment of a mandatory insurance scheme for specific categories of robots, by virtue of which manufacturers and owners of robots are required to take out insurance coverage;
  • the creation of a general fund for all intelligent autonomous robots or an individual fund for each category.

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