Tuesday 17 January 2017 2:41 pm

MEPs vote to put robots on the agenda to tackle safety and legal concerns

MEPs have started on a European health and safety standard for robots – before the fracking toasters short circuit and become our overlords.

Or before other countries like Japan and the US establish their standards first.  

A “kill” switch and creating a status for “electronic persons” that would bear legal responsibility are among recommendations that MEPs on the Legal Affairs Committee have proposed to the European Commission (EC).

Rapporteur Mady Delvaux, Vice Chair of the Legal Affairs Committee said: “A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”.

Read more: Artificial intelligence and robots one of biggest risks to the world

The rapporteur’s report, which suggests the European Commission establish an agency to handle robots and artificial intelligence, was approved by 17 votes. It addresses artificial intelligence-related issues such as liability, safety and changes in the labour market.

One recommendation is that manufacturers fit robots with “kill” switches to turn robots off in case of an emergency.

Driverless cars also topped the list of concerns that MEPs have put forward to the EC. An obligatory insurance scheme would give full compensation to victims hurt by driverless cars – but who the victims would be and who would be responsible for any damages remains unclear.

MEPs suggested that in the longer-term, the most advanced of robots could gain the status of “electronic persons” and would be legally responsible if a dispute were to arise.

The legal issues surrounding driverless cars have already cropped up. Last May, a Florida man in a driverless Tesla died, after colliding with a lorry. He had been using Tesla's autopilot, which automatically changes lanes and reacts to traffic.

Tesla responded in a blog post which said its systems are not fully automated and work in tandem with the driver's operations.

According to the Rapporteur’s report, the manufacturer should be liable. It says that a robot’s technology would do less harm if it worked better. The people who could improve a robot’s performance and who should be responsible for its mistakes are its makers.

Read more: Driverless cars are hitting the streets of London next month

"Crimes of the heart" is another area of EU concern. Vulnerable people who become attached to their care robots would be covered by a charter with suggestions for manufacturers on how their robots would avoid manipulating people, or making them fall in love with their mechanical carers.

The report says: “You should be dependent on them for physical tasks but you should never think that a robot loves you or feels sadness”.

The European Parliament has tackled the issue ahead of any member states in an effort to create an industry standard for all of the EU.