from the beep-boop dept
Questions about how we approach our new robotic friends once the artificial intelligence revolution really kicks off are not new, nor are calls for developing some sort of legal framework that will govern how humanity and robots ought to interact with one another. For the better part of this decade, in fact, there have been some advocating that robots and AI be granted certain rights along the lines of what humanity, or at least animals, enjoy. And, while some of its ideas haven't been stellar, such as a call for robots to be afforded copyright for anything they might create, the EU has been talking for some time about developing policy around the rights and obligations of artificial intelligence and its creators.
With AI being something of a hot topic, as predictions of its eventual widespread emergence mount, it seems EU MEPs are attempting to get out ahead of the revolution.
In a new report, members of the European Parliament have made it clear they think it’s essential that we establish comprehensive rules around artificial intelligence and robots in preparation for a “new industrial revolution.” According to the report, we are on the threshold of an era filled with sophisticated robots and intelligent machines “which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched.” As a result, the need for legislation is greater than ever to ensure societal stability as well as the digital and physical safety of humans.
The report looks into the need to create a legal status just for robots which would see them dubbed “electronic persons.” Having their own legal status would mean robots would have their own legal rights and obligations, including taking responsibility for autonomous decisions or independent interactions.
It's quite easy to make offhand remarks about all of this being science fiction, but this isn't without sense. Something like the artificial intelligence humanity has imagined for a century is going to exist at some point and, with advances beginning to look like that may come sooner rather than later, it only makes sense that we discuss how we're going to handle its implications. After all, technology like this is likely to impact our lives in significant and varied ways, from our jobs and employment, to our interactions with our electronic devices, not to mention warfare.
I think the most interesting philosophical and moral questions surround these MEPs call to grant robots and AI with the designation of "electronic persons." The call has largely focused on saddling robotic "life" with many of the obligations humanity endures, such as tax obligations and being under the jurisdiction of humanity's legal system. But personhood can't only come with obligations; it must too come with rights. And there would be something strange in recognizing a robot's "personhood" while at the same time making use of its output or labor. The specter of slavery begins to rear its head at this point, brought on only by that very designation. Were they electronic "beasts", for instance, the question of slavery wouldn't arise outside of the fringe.
The MEPs report does also deal with the potential danger from AI and robots in its call for designers to "respect human frailty" when developing and programming these machine-lives. And here the report truly does delve into science fiction, but only out of deference to great literature.
Things descend slightly into the realms of science fiction when the report discusses the possibility of the machines we build becoming more intelligent than us posing “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.”
However, to stop us getting to this point the MEPs cite the importance of rules like those written by author Isaac Asimov for designers, producers, and operators of robots which state that: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”; “A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law” and “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws.”
While some might laugh this off, this too is sensible. There is simply no reason to refuse to have a discussion about how a life, or a simulacrum of life, that is created by humanity, might pose a danger to that humanity, either at the level of the individual or the community.
But what strikes me most about all of this is how the EU seems to be the ones out in front of this, while any discussion in the Americas has been either muted or occurring behind closed doors. If this is a public discussion worth having in the EU, it is certainly one too worth having here.