Robots used to exist only in the realm of science fiction, but these days they are rapidly becoming a part of everyday life in the shape of drones, intelligent cars, industrial robots and robotic vacuum cleaners. The Parliament's legal affairs committee has decided to set up a working group to come up with proposals for legislation on how to make best use of robotics. We spoke to Luxembourg S&D member Mady Delvaux, who will write a report on this on behalf of the working group.
Although the European Commission is funding several robotics projects, there is no EU legislation on it yet. This is why the Parliament has set up this working group, which consist of representatives from every political group. The group, which will be in place for at least one year, will work closely together with experts, the European Commission and other parliamentary committees. Delvaux is responsible for writing a report with recommendations, which all MEPs will then vote on during a plenary session. To find out more about her work, we asked her for an interview.
What is a robot? People generally think of androids from the future that look and act like people. On what sort of robots will you focus on?
It is very difficult to find a definition. We will cover all kinds of robots: industrial robots, service robots - such as vacuum cleaners and intelligent fridges - health and surgical robots, drones, cars and artificial intelligence. But we know we have to deal with one type at a time. Androids are our last concern; they are mostly localised in Japan. We know where we will start, but we do not know where we will end.
Why is there a need for new legislation on this matter? Isn't artificial intelligence already covered by existing legislation?
There are various reasons for this. We need a new European standardisation. We also need to consider liability, the protection of personal data and the prevention of hacking. Some robots, for example industrial ones, are already covered by a machinery directive, but it covers only speed and some technical parameters, but not the machine's intelligence.
We need to test robots more to see how they act and what kind of accidents can arise from their interaction with humans. Then there is the question of equal access. If robots really make life easier, we need to ensure that everybody can afford them.
The US, China, Korea and Japan have very ambitious projects. If we do not create the legal framework for the development of robotics, our market will be invaded by robots from outside. Also, the European Parliament will be the first parliament in the world to discuss and create such a legal framework.
Some people fear that robots will steal jobs, others argue that robots will actually create new and better, jobs. Are we at the cusp of a new industrial revolution?
I am convinced that this will bring about a revolution. Of course it will destroy certain kinds of jobs, but it will also create new ones. If industry uses more automation robotics, they will be more performing and more competitive and it can lead to some companies relocating production back to Europe.