European Union considers granting “electronic personhood” to future AIs

Humanity has fantasised about the creation of intelligent machines since the Antiquity, from myths about Talos and to the scenarios of AI rebellion in Terminator. Now we are closer than ever to finally building true robots, androids and other manifestation of Artificial Intelligence. We already have self-driving vehicles, chatbots, drones and machines capable of medical treatment. Could this be worrying, considering the decades of accumulated media imagery about machine-led revolt and violence?

As such, the European Union has acknowledged the potential implications and dangers of the technological progress. It has pioneered a document, which delineates the regulation to administer creation and utilisation of robots and AIs. The innovative document foresees that ICT developments and increased automatisation are likely to cause the next industrial revolution, impacting all areas of social life and business conduct. The suggested status of the for AI would be similar to a legal entity, assigning it with certain rights and obligations, such as liability for damage. Given document urges to establish basic ethical principles of Asimov’s Laws of robotics, implement a mandatory robot insurance, tax AI labour, also calling to create a new European agency for robotics and AI. Finally, the report’s author states the necessity to include opt-out options or remote ‘kill-switches’ to prevent and stop any physical or psychological harm that robots could induce.

This is also not the first manifestation of movement towards a regulated AI market. Other countries and independent institutions have considered the future of new technology as well, and took action. For example, Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has been established in the States, while South Korea announced to form Science and Technology Strategy Committee, both with a purpose to monitor and foster AI project development.

This means that humanity is preparing to move into the new economy. Yet despite the graphic portrayals of potential evils and goods AI could bring, the yearning to institute regulation also comes from the aggregated statistical data and financial forecasts. The Global Risks Report 2017 from the World Economic Forum has stated that unregulated technological progress is likely to threaten global stability and peace. For example, the likely onset of automatisation, powered by ever smarter AI’s, will displace more jobs that could be simultaneously created. In this case, taxation of AI labour would help to provide social benefit to help cope with unemployment. Of course, it comes at a price - by limiting the potential of technological progress and its pace. For instance, The European draft prohibits making highly realistic human-like robots, such as in Westworld or Blade Runner. Could these policies potentially trigger the black market for unregulated and more capable machines or encourage businesses to evade AI taxes?

Moreover, do governments even have a necessary insight and capacity to respond adequately to new technological advances? These are still open questions. Nevertheless, the document drafted by the European Government helps to fuel the debate about the purpose, worth and implication of AI regulation, thus addressing public speculation and concern. It is good to remember that even despite the outcome of this particular document, it is important to maintain a critical perspective and remain thoughtful to extract most value from current progress.