European lawmakers on Thursday called for the drawing up of rules and a code of conduct to protect its citizens from possible risks that might emerge from the fast-moving field of robotics.
Europe's parliament voted in a resolution asking the European Commission to propose rules on robots and artificial intelligence.
"Rules are needed for the fast-evolving field of robotics, e.g. to enforce ethical standards or establish liability for accidents involving driverless cars," the European Parliament said in a statement.
With 396 votes in favor, 123 against and 85 abstentions, the resolution instructed the European Commission to prepare legislation on the design, development and use of robots.
Lawmakers asked the Commission to look into creating a legal status for robots and to regulate who would be liable if they caused damage.
"The growing use of robotics also raises ethical issues, for example, to do with privacy and safety," Europe's lawmakers said in the statement.
They proposed the introduction of a voluntary code of ethics to govern fields including researcher and design with a view to them respecting human dignity, the statement said.
Until now, the EU had certain guidelines oriented only towards a standardization of the industry.
Beyond driverless vehicles, for which compulsory insurance and a supplementary fund for compensation were proposed to guarantee the protection of accident victims, the impact of artificial intelligence was expected to be felt in areas involving drones, industrial robots, medical care artifacts, toys or machines used with livestock and agriculture.
First of all, it will be necessary for the Commission to define what a robot is.
The term was coined by the Czechoslovakian writer Karel Capek in 1920 in his work "R.U.R." which stands for "Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti" (Rossum's Universal Robots), and which seems to come from Slavic terms to designate "work."
Despite the lack of consensus among the global scientific community, the text attempts to define intelligent autonomous robots as physical machines equipped with sensors that are interconnected and capable of collecting and/or exchanging data. They are thus able to adapt their behavior to their environment.
Folklore and science fiction have also explored the idea, from the myth of the Hebrew Golem to films like "Terminator," without forgetting literary works like "Frankenstein."
The resolution analyzed the postulates of the biochemistry professor and Russian science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who 75 years ago wrote three famous laws of robotics in his story "Runaround," considered an ethical paradigm for the sector.
The first is that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
The second, that a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
The third, that a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The parliamentary petition concluded that these laws belonged only to the spectrum of literature and are inadequate to protect humanity in legal terms.
Users should respect certain rules, such as not allowing a robot to contravene ethical or legal standards in any respect. In addition, robots should not be allowed to work as weapons.
The initiative of the parliament, in its current state, remains a mere declaration of intent.
It does, however, open the door to a broad debate that touches dilemmas such as sex or marriage with robots.
The first is just around the corner and the second, as predicted recently by artificial intelligence expert David Levy during the second international conference "Love and sex with robots" at Goldsmiths University in London, could be possible by 2050, the statement said.