Get used to hearing a lot more about artificial intelligence. Even if you discount the utopian and dystopian hyperbole, the 21st century will broadly be defined not just by advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, computing and cognitive neuroscience, but how we manage them. For some, the question of whether or not the human race will live to see a 22nd century turns upon this latter consideration. While forecasting the imminence of an AI-centric future remains a matter of intense debate, we will need to come to terms with it. For now, there are many more questions than answers.
It is clear, however, that the European Parliament is making inroads towards taking an AI-centric future seriously. Last month, in a 17-2 vote, the parliament’s legal affairs committee voted to to begin drafting a set of regulations to govern the development and use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Included in this draft proposal is preliminary guidance on what it calls “electronic personhood” that would ensure corresponding rights and obligations for the most sophisticated AI. This is a start, but nothing more than that.
If you caught any of the debate on the issue of “electronic” or “robot” personhood, you probably understand how murky the issues are, and how visceral reactions to it can be. If you have not caught any of it, now is a good time to start paying attention.
The idea of robot personhood is similar to the concept of corporate personhood that allows companies to take part in legal cases as both claimant and respondent – that is, to sue and be sued. The report identifies a number of areas for potential oversight, such as the formation of a European agency for AI and robotics, a legal definition of “smart autonomous robots”, a registration system for the most advanced ones, and a mandatory insurance scheme for companies to cover damage and harm caused by robots.
The report also addresses the possibility that both AI and robotics will play a central role in catalysing massive job losses and calls for a “serious” assessment of the feasibility of universal basic income as a strategy to minimise the economic effects of mass automation of entire economic sectors.