The field of robotics is advancing at a staggering pace, as is the field of artificial intelligence. Put those two together, and you have robots that, even today, are capable of performing some basic tasks on their own. Combined with human teaching and constant input, it’s not hard to imagine these robots in the workforce. In Europe, however, that’s no imaginary scenario; robots have taken over jobs in sectors from industrial to medical and everything in between. Though their numbers are not yet great enough to cause significant economic change or crisis, the trends are there to show that such a fate may be headed Europe’s way. In response, new laws have been drafted up and are currently awaiting a final yes or no vote.
These laws would reclassify smart robots, capable of working, as “electronic persons”. Currently, business owners that use robots do not have to pay a tax on them; they are essentially simple office supplies, on paper. A slow shift is happening in the market, however, that could see initiatives funded by income tax paid from human workers begin to lose funding. On top of that, since robots have yet to completely overtake the workforce, they often work alongside humans. While a workplace accident only involving robots would be a simple case of paying to repair damages in most cases, an accident involving robots and humans, especially one in which the robot malfunctions, could be a much stickier situation, legally. This would be especially true if any humans were harmed or serious property damage occurred.
To combat this, a new motion from the European Parliament, dated May 31st 2016, suggests that laws look to the “growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy” of modern robots and begin treating them more like humans, giving them certain rights and responsibilities by law. Under these laws, robots would face the same taxes and legal liabilities as their human counterparts in the working world, payable by the robots’ owners. VDMA, a representation firm out of Germany who allies with automation and robotics authorities, criticized the proposals, saying that they are coming far too early and will hamper the growth of the robotics field. VDMA pointed out that, at the moment, workers in Germany have yet to be sufficiently disrupted by robots to warrant such a legal framework, citing the auto industry as an example. German automakers employed roughly 13% more new human workers year on year from last year’s numbers, despite employment growth of 17% for robots, showing that the two numbers do not necessarily have an inverse relationship.