As the world we live in rapidly becomes crowded with a multitude of different cyber-physical systems– machines or mechanisms controlled by increasingly intelligent, computer-based algorithms, a wide range of legal issues will need to be re-examined and adapted to new realities. Technological changes have nowadays accelerated to such a speed that increasingly law-making has difficulty catching up. STOA therefore recently conducted a foresight study in order to draw up possible scenarios to illustrate where developments in the area of cyber-physical systems might take us. Using these scenarios it was then possible to identify the areas of jurisdiction that should be addressed pro-actively, in order to reap the greatest possible benefits from the technical developments while avoiding, as far as possible, the negative consequences. This briefing presents legal reflections for seven areas of concern that are of relevance to the work of the European Parliament, listing the issues that might have to be dealt with, the EP committees concerned, and the legislative acts that might need to be revisited. It is hoped that the briefing will give Members of the European Parliament a better overview of the various questions they will likely be confronted with in the coming years, and a forward looking instrument to allow the EP to plan actions pro-actively rather than later having to react to some unforeseen event, accident or disaster. The analysis looks at the different ways in which the current EU legislative framework may be affected by advances in robotics and by the respective technological trends. To do so, a scanning of the current state-of-the-art of legislation pertaining to robotics was performed pointing towards mostly areas of EU law that are in need of adjustment or revision due to the deployment of emerging robotics technologies. The focus has primarily been on whether robots raise particular legal concerns or challenges and whether these can be addressed within the existing EU legal framework, rather than on how human behaviour might be affected through robotics. The focus on the existing EU legal framework does not necessarily imply that all robotic applications by and large can be accommodated within the current boundaries of EU law or that the adoption of a uniform body of law or of a single legal approach towards CPS as a whole (a form of lex robotica) should be excluded given the transnational character of some of these challenges. Although the regulatory implications of robotics can be approached from a variety of legal perspectives, the legal analysis does not attempt to prejudge what will eventually be the most appropriate instrument in each case. For some types of applications, a review is recommended while for some others, robotics can possibly be regulated by modifying existing directives or regulations, international conventions, soft law instruments or standards drawn up by professional associations or technical standardisation organisations.
Through developments in the field of metamaterials, we may be able to create products with surprising capabilities, from making DNA visible to making buildings invisible, but have we considered the risks, as well as the benefits?
In 2015, STOA Panel membership has grown from 15 MEPs to 24, including representatives of two more parliament committees: Culture & Education (CULT) and Legal Affairs (JURI). Furthermore, STOA has established its capacity to generate proactive anticipatory expertise through scientific foresight studies. These will support Members of Parliament, and many others, to prepare for the long-term (20-50 year) impacts of science and technology on European society. In 2015 STOA has delivered projects on mass surveillance, technology options for deep-seabed exploitation, learning and teaching technologies, the collaborative economy and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the developing world. Additionally, STOA hosted 11 workshops, providing crucial fora for interaction between policy-makers, researchers and the public, and oversaw the 4th edition of the MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme, enabling 31 partnerships between parliamentarians and active researchers. Celebrating the end of a successful year, STOA welcomed Professor Serge HAROCHE – co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics - to deliver its Annual Lecture to an audience of hundreds, including MEPs, scientists and other citizens. The subject, aligned with the United Nations (UN) International Year of Light, was 'A Discovery Tour in the World of Quantum Optics'.
Brain-computer interface technology has been advancing rapidly and will continue to do so as our knowledge of how the brain works increases. Could this transform our understanding of life as we know it? A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device. This technology can be used to restore motor and sensory capacities which may have been lost through trauma, disease or congenital conditions. For example, combined with limb-replacement technology, BCI may allow patients not only to move prosthetic limbs, but also to feel the sensation of touch. The technology can either be implanted (invasive) or used externally (non-invasive). Invasive BCIs, including neuroprosthetics and brain implants, are devices which connect directly to the brain and are placed on its surface or attached to the cortex. A key application area for contemporary brain implant research is the development of biomedical prostheses to circumvent areas of the brain that have become dysfunctional after a stroke or other trauma. With deep brain stimulation, a 'brain pacemaker' sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain for the treatment of disorders such as Parkinson's disease, dystonia and major depression. Non-invasive BCIs consist of a range of technological devices which provide a similar interface between the brain and other machines without the need for surgery. There are several technologies capable of measuring and recording brain activity, although the signal quality may be weaker than is possible with implanted devices. Nonetheless, non-invasive BCIs have been used effectively, for example to control prosthetic hands.
External authors: Laura Delponte (lead author), Matteo Grigolini, Andrea Moroni and Silvia Vignetti (Centre for Industrial Studies - CSIL, Milan, Italy). Massimiliano Claps and Nino Giguashvili (International Data Corporation - IDC, Milan, Italy).
Over recent years, there have been increasing opportunities for inhabitants of low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to use information and communication technologies (ICT). ICT can potentially help LMICs tackle a wide range of health, social and economic problems.By improving access to information and enabling communication, ICT can play a role in achieving millennium development goals (MDGs) such as the elimination of extreme poverty, combating serious diseases, and accomplishing universal primary education. This study is aimed at examining the nature and extent of impact of ICT on poverty reduction in LMICs. A specific focus is developed for the health sector, elucidating which support ICT may provide to reduce inequalities and strengthen health systems in LMICs. In addition, present EU actions in the area of improving ICT diffusion in LMICs are assessed. Building on three literature reviews, the study first describes the conditions hampering or facilitating the support of ICT to poverty reduction in LMICs, then focuses on the specific opportunities and obstacles in the use of ICT in the healthcare sector and, finally, it illustrates the EU policy approach for promoting ICT in LMICs. Evidence from desk analysis is complemented by the opinions of 145 surveyed experts, ten of which were also interviewed. Experts’ opinions confirm the evidence of desk analysis pointing to health and education as the main areas in which ICT can play a significant role in LMICs development. Building upon the evidence collected, the study provides policy options for future action which the EU could undertake to help LMICs profit from all the opportunities that ICT offer.
External authors: Steve Robertshaw (editor), Nick Achilleopoulos, Johan E. Bengtsson, Patrick Crehan, Angele Giuliano, John Soldatos (AcrossLimits Ltd, Malta)
Ever since its appearance, Internet has allowed us to collaborate with other people remotely. In the 80's, email was the breakthrough that enabled exchange of digital materials. In the 90's, the World Wide Web opened collaboration on web sites. After 2000, social media and e-meeting technologies enabled face-to-face interaction with others via the Internet. New modes of collaboration, such as crowd sourcing, crowd funding, co-creation or open design are reaching mainstream use. Advances in technologies related to Collaborative Internet, Big/Open Data, Crypto Currency and Additive Manufacturing are bringing the Collaborative Economy ever closer to us. This study reveals a wide range of opportunities and threats associated with these technologies,as well as social, political, economic, moral and ethical issues related to this new way of working. Policy options are presented, in order to help policy makers anticipate developments with effective policies that will nurture the positive impacts of collaborative Internet and avoid the negative ones.
Synthetic biology is expected to design, construct and develop artificial (i.e. man-made) biological systems that mimic or even go beyond naturally-occurring biological systems. What are the benefits of this emerging field? Are there any ethical and social issues arising from this engineering approach to biology?
Known as Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), drones have become increasingly present due to a sharp drop in production costs, as a consequence of recent innovations in light-weight materials, on-board computers, batteries and fuel tanks. Since their inception, drones have been developed for military purposes, with the inclusion of weapons in them, as well as for surveillance and policing efforts. Recently, however, other uses have proliferated, in the fields of climate data collection, scientific exploration, 3-D mapping, infrastructure maintenance, logistics and delivery services, professional photography and filmmaking, entertainment, wildlife protection and agriculture. The increasing diversity and affordability of drones will surely lead to their widespread use amongst corporations, governmental institutions and common citizens. Thus, the legal and ethical issues already associated with drones will most likely become more prominent and require the attention of European policy makers.
STOA is tasked with providing scientific evidence for decision-making in the European Parliament by conducting projects and organising workshops. In 2014 STOA completed projects on measuring scientific performance, methanol-fueled transport, e-ticketing systems, cloud computing and social networks, and mass surveillance of IT users. A number of workshops was held on the following topics: energy storage, governance of science and technologies, improving health programmes in developing countries, educational technologies, climate change, and the effect of technologies on our behaviours, relationships, norms and values. A new STOA Panel was formed in 2014, following the European elections.
Rafael Rivera Pastor, Carlota Tarín Quirós (Iclaves)
Educational technology encompasses a wide array of technologies and methodologies that are shaped by stakeholders’ behaviours and affected by contextual factors that, if adequately mixed, can contribute to students and teachers better achieving their goals. Such a wide and complex task cannot be addressed by a simple and single intervention. Comprehensive on-going policies are required, covering technology, methodology, economic and regulatory aspects; in addition, such policies are dependent on strong stakeholder engagement. This is a new process where we must learn by doing; therefore, carefully assessing the results of the different interventions is crucial to ensuring success.