European Parliament approves resolution on robotics, job losses spark concerns

Maria Nikolova

An area of contention seems to be the role of machines at the workplace and the potential loss of jobs for human workers.

The website of the European Parliament is often filled with eye-tearing press releases such as “Give rabbits more space”. Not today. Today, the MEPs looked to the future and the potential consequences from the increased adoption of robotics and related artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in various areas of life.

Data from the International Federation of Robotics show that robot sales increased by an average of 17% per year between 2010 and 2014, and by 29% globally in 2014 alone.

Having this in mind, MEPs today voted a resolution that urges the European Commission to draft rules for the field of robotics to be applied across the European Union.

The resolution was passed by 396 votes to 123, with 85 abstentions.

A point of disagreement was the part concerning the effects of AI on the labour market. Rapporteur Mady Delvaux (S&D, LU) commented: “Although I am pleased that the plenary adopted my report on robotics, I am also disappointed that the right-wing coalition of ALDE, EPP and ECR refused to take account of possible negative consequences on the job market. They rejected an open-minded and forward-looking debate and thus disregarded the concerns of our citizens.”

This topic has been discussed at FinanceFeeds numerous times – AI solutions are advancing in the financial services industry, threatening to replace human staff in various roles. Recent examples come from Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance and Russia’s Sberbank. And yet, some consider that robots would elevate human work rather than make it useless.

MEPs call for the European Commission to monitor these trends closely.

MEPs say draft legislation is urgently needed to clarify certain liability issues, for self-driving cars in particular. They urge the establishment of a mandatory insurance scheme and a supplementary fund to ensure that victims of accidents involving driverless cars get just compensations. The Commission is also requested to consider determining a specific legal status for robots in the long run, so that it would be possible to establish who is liable if they cause damage.

The resolution also highlights certain ethical issues related to the growing use of robotics – for instance, issues related to privacy and safety. MEPs propose a voluntary ethical code of conduct on robotics for researchers and designers so that “robot design and use respect human dignity”.

Establishing a European agency for robotics and artificial intelligence is also proposed. It is set to supply public authorities with technical, ethical and regulatory expertise.

MEPs note that regulatory standards for robots are already being planned in a number of countries. The Commission is not obliged to follow the Parliament’s recommendations, but should provide its reasons if it refuses.

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