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EU’s move to give robots legal status ‘to treat them like corporations’

IANS | London |

As members of the European Union back a draft resolution to grant legal status to robots, in order to understand this proposal one needs to look at corporations which carry legal responsibility but aren't recognised as having human rights or seen as individuals, say experts.

The proposal in question was put forward by a socialist MEP from Luxembourg Mady Delvaux-Stehres. Delvaux-Stehres's resolution was passed by the European Parliament's legal affairs committee and a vote on the resolution is likely to take place in February.

"A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework," Delvaux-Stehres stated in a statement.

According to Andrea Bertolini, Professor of Private Law at University of Pisa in Italy, in order to understand this proposal, one needs to look at corporations. 

"Robots may be treated like that [corporations] in the proximate future. Even in that case the European Parliament is not talking about all sorts of robots but just about some devices, where it might be reasonable to treat them as something close to a corporation," Bertolini told Sputnik news agency on Monday. 

Hence, according to the professor, the draft should be looked at as not a comparison of robots to human beings but rather a comparison of them to corporations. 

Talking about the legal framework and how robots can be held accountable for their actions, the professor said that "The idea is very clear in the document of the European Parliament that the machine itself cannot be held accountable. The robot is the thing and even in the case when it will be attributed to 'electronic person' it would still be a thing and it would still be treated as a corporation." 

He said that ultimately there would always be a human being behind a robot that would bear the economic consequences of the harm that the machine may inflict. 

"Otherwise you would expect either the producer or the owner of the machine to be held accountable for the damages that the machine cost," the professor said. 

The members of European Parliament have stressed that EU-wide rules are needed to fully exploit the economic potential of robotics and artificial intelligence and guarantee a standard level of safety and security. 

"The EU needs to take the lead on regulatory standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third states," they said in the draft report.