In the News
A lot of science fiction, from Star Trek and Ex Machina through Westworld, makes it seem like human-level artificial intelligence is around the corner.
However, sentient machines are still pretty far away. In the meantime, ethicists and regulators in Europe and elsewhere have begun considering robotics and AI rules.
The most pressing use cases involve autonomous machines in factories and warehouses. As more functions are performed by the onboard (and cloud-based) “brains” of robots, the more we need to anticipate potential outcomes and how to assign legal blame in the case of an accident.
In my previous article, we looked at how the EU may soon create an agency governing safety, liability, and other standards for mobile and social robots and for autonomous vehicles. The concept of electronic "personhood" essentially boils down to the legal status of these machines. Ownership versus independence will be a key factor in determining responsibility for any incident.
- Public agencies and private companies need to collaborate on a consistent legal framework for determining responsibility in the case of accidents involving robots and AI.
- The novel issue of “robot rights” will require innovative solutions to be enforceable.
- The EU is leading efforts to anticipate technology development with robotics and AI rules.
A bright future?
In the 20th century, flight evolved from the introduction of biplanes before World War I through the moon landing and space shuttle. We are on the verge of an evolution of computer science and robotics in which truly autonomous, thinking machines could emerge.
Social robots, self-driving cars, and various applications of machine learning offer many commercial opportunities. However, each of these involves not only technical challenges, but societal ones as well.
According to many industry pundits, AI has the potential for economic disruption on the scale of the Industrial Revolution.
Policy makers and businesses need to consider the effects of robotics and AI. If many production and service jobs are replaced through physical and software automation, how will taxation support programs such as Social Security?
Regulations address the physical safety of humans sharing workspaces or roads with robots, but they will also need to account for interactions and employment. Automation has its roots on the manufacturing floor, but now the very nature of work is changing all the way up the corporate ladder.
Some of the key questions to be answered are:
- What will it be like to have machines that can reason (for the most part) like humans?
- Should we define a new legal status for autonomous machines and processes?