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European politicians have voted to rein in the robots


Mary Delvaux

European politicians have voted in favour of a controversial report calling for regulation on robots and artificial intelligence (AI).

The vote, which took place in France on Thursday, was based on a report from the Legal Affairs Committee, which warned that there is a growing need for regulation to address increasingly autonomous robots and other forms of sophisticated AI.

The report passed 396-to-123, with 85 abstentions.

"MEP's (Members of the European Parliament) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the report," said a spokesperson for the European Parliament. "The report is not legislative but provides recommendations for the Commission. Now it goes to the Commission to act upon."

The report calls for a European agency for robotics and AI, as well as a supplementary fund for people involved in accidents with autonomous cars.

While MEPs voted in favour of the report, they rejected demands for a basic income for workers who lose their jobs and a tax on robots, Politico reports.

Before the vote, Mady Delvaux, the author of the report and the Socialists and Democrats member in the Legal Affairs Committee, put forward her recommendations to MEPs in Strasbourg.

After the vote, Delvaux said in a statement: "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."

A protester dressed as a robot takes part in a march by Belgian public sector workers in central Brussels, Belgium, May 31, 2016.Politicians are concerned that robots will wipe out millions of jobs worldwide. There are also fears that superintelligent machines could harm humanity if they're not programmed in the right way.

"The next generation of robots will be more and more capable of learning by themselves," Delvaux said in an interview published on the European Parliament website.

"The most high-profile ones are self-driving cars, but they also include drones, industrial robots, care robots, entertainment robots, toys, robots in farming," said Delvaux.

"We have to monitor what is happening and then we have to be prepared for every scenario."

Tech firms and AI gurus who are keen to make the smartest machines possible will likely see any form of government regulation around AI as a set back at this stage.

Delvaux added: "We always have to remind people that robots are not human and will never be. Although they might appear to show empathy, they cannot feel it. We do not want robots like they have in Japan, which look like people. We proposed a charter setting out that robots should not make people emotionally dependent on them. You can be dependent on them for physical tasks, but you should never think that a robot loves you or feels your sadness."

Delvaux also believes that a separate legal status should be created for robots.

"When self-learning robots arise, different solutions will become necessary and we are asking the Commission to study options," she said. "One could be to give robots a limited 'e-personality' [comparable to 'corporate personality, a legal status which enables firms to sue or be sued] at least where compensation is concerned.

"It is similar to what we now have for companies, but it is not for tomorrow. What we need now is to create a legal framework for the robots that are currently on the market or will become available over the next 10 to 15 years."

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