We’ve written before on the development of robot law. Now, the European Parliament has officially started taking steps that will lead to the enactment of robot law in Europe. On 31 March 2016, the Committee on Legal Affairs submitted a draft report with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics (2015/2103(INL)).

The report is 22 pages long, and forms the first step in the EU law-making process. It is an official request for the Commission to submit to the European Parliament an official proposal for civil law rules on robotics. The report contains a detailed list of recommendations on what the final civil rules should contain. This includes creating an official definition of smart robots, a standard for manufacturing quality, and laws on how robots should be studied, developed and used. The report even includes Isaac Asimov’s famous Laws of Robotics. It suggests that these laws bind developers and users of robots, until they can apply to robots themselves.

The report will be discussed at the first plenary sitting on 12 December 2016. We think the report is comprehensive and handles many aspects of robotics very well.

Why do we need civil law rules on robotics?

The report discusses various considerations regarding robots that law-makers will need to tackle. Laws already exist that specify how, where and when people can use machines. But these laws don’t deal with machines with brains – robots. Robots can make decisions, react to situations and move on their own. They include intelligent refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, and driverless cars. They can even be hacked. Law-makers must plan for liability for accidents or abuse, how to handle personal information that robots collect, or even what rights robots themselves may have in the future.

We also see the EU civil law rules on robotics as the beginning of a global standard of laws for robots. In such a far reaching industry, a global standard is vital.

What about now?

In the meantime, robots are governed by the existing laws of a country. Many countries have already started considering how robots should be used, particularly in the form of drone law. These laws are not enough, however. Countries will need to consider how the EU develops its civil law rules on robotics, and use this as a framework for their own laws.

We recently had the honour of contributing a chapter in a robot law book. The book deals with how the laws in various countries already relate to robots, and could be used to help develop a set of global civil law rules on robotics.

Who should read the report?

  • Robotics and AI engineers and researchers
  • Robotics and AI designers
  • Robotics and AI users
  • Lawyers and law-makers interested in robot law
  • People interested in how robotics will change the world’s industries

Steps you can take now

If you are interested in robot law, you can download the draft report or view the procedure file on the European Parliament’s website. You can also buy a book on robot law, or get our advice on a robot law issue.