The European Union wants to give robots "electronic persons" status

Emma Haslett
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Electronic persons: they're coming (Source: Getty)

Say what you like about the European Union, but its timing is impeccable.

The EU - yes, the organisation currently on trial by the population of its third-largest member - has just issued a draft report on robotics. Spoiler: it's nuts.

The report, designed to provide recommendations to the EU's Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics, suggests classing "at least the most sophisticated" robots as "electronic persons".

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Yep - under the recommendations, robots would have "specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause, and applying electronic personality to cases where robots make smart autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently".

Ie. if the robots cause an apocalyptic war between man and machine, they should at least have the decency to clean up after themselves.

But it's not only the machines being given extra responsibilities: their employers could also be charged with additional duties.

"Undertakings should be obliged to disclose... the savings made in social security contributions through the use of robotics in place of human personnel," the report suggests.

"In the light of the possible effects on the labour market of robotics and AI a general basic income should be seriously considered."

Read more: Stressed out Brits want robots and virtual assistants to pick up the slack

Worried? So are the report's authors.

"Ultimately there is a possibility that within the space of a few decades AI could surpass human intellectual capacity in a manner which, if not prepared for, could pose 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 and to ensure the survival of the species."

According to Reuters, though, the plan faces an "uphill battle" to win backing "from the various political blocks" in the European Parliament. So it's unlikely we'll bow to our electronic person overlords anytime soon.