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Robotics and AI: How to shape our future without leaving people behind?

Submitted by on 20 Sep 2018 – 17:06

Before AI gets to the point of threatening humanity and becomes a superhuman tech, we should build clear rules to ensure that robots serve human interests at all times. Mady Devaux MEP  says the EU has the duty to stay united and defend our values by taking the lead

Not too long ago, Stephen Hawking warned that the development of full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race. Hawking cautioned us against an extreme form of AI — wherein machines would operate by themselves and independently design and build ever more capable systems.

Recently, several scientists and technologists made several doomsday predictions about the potential of AI. Tech billionaire Elon Musk called it an existential threat to the human race and expressed concern over a future shared with robots. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said robots doing more work in the future will be positive, but also expressed concern about the potential of artificial intelligence in the long run.

Science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s dystopian future, where humans are enslaved by malicious robots, is not far ahead. As scientists warn, once we build an artificial intelligence smarter than ourselves, a new frontier of artificial general intelligence is bound to evolve sooner or later.

Beyond making our lives easier, today AI is helping us resolve some of the world’s greatest challenges, from treating chronic diseases or reducing fatalities in traffic accidents to fighting climate change or anticipating cybersecurity threats.

Over the next few decades, the increased use of robots and AI will not leave any stratum of society untouched. As technological innovation continues to get ever faster, robots and AI will play an increasingly important part of our daily lives. This can bring huge benefits to society by assisting us with difficult and unpleasant tasks.

The EU has a huge potential in this field: talented entrepreneurs, motivated research centres and a great market. It is an important opportunity that we have to seize now.

And by “now,” I mean yesterday.

We need clear rules to ensure robots serve human interests at all times and the rest of the world is not waiting to be led by Europe on this issue. If we don’t decide how we want to shape our future, it is highly likely that China and America will decide for us, leaving us as simply followers.

The EU has the duty to stay united and defend our values by taking the lead. By delaying its action, it has incentivised different member states across Europe to adopt national legislation, which has endangered our cohesion and risks fracturing the market. The communication of the Commission’s AI Strategy is a good first step but the sole use of soft law does not meet my expectations.

While I welcome the investment plan made to support industry and our economy to overcome thelack of internet giants in the EU, I deplore the absence of a social vision. Although the strategy’s statements and the creation of groups of experts are nice initiatives, the time is ripe for the legislation to ensure the EU provides a protective framework for consumers and legal certainty for companies.

More than a year after the adoption of my report on civil law rules on robotics, I still identify five pillars we should deal with. The first one is safety. The EU needs a standardisation of products to ensure a satisfactory level of safety for users within the single market and to strengthen the consumer’s trust. The second is about the adaptability of our liability regimes to ensure compensation for victims of accidents involving robots and AI. The third lies in ethical principles which we should define to frame the development of these new technologies. I hope that the EU alliance for AI set up by the Commission will fulfil this role. The fourth concerns the impact on employment.

While we cannot assess whether jobs will be created or destroyed, my conviction is that the structure of the employment market will be profoundly modified. With this view, we have to prepare a framework for preventing inequalities and permitting good standards of living for everybody.

Closely related to this is the fifth pillar: education. We should adapt our educational systems to ensure that our children will be well prepared for the future, while at the same time providing a dynamic and efficient lifelong learning system.

I hope that the EU will tackle the problem head-on and I reiterate my call for a real public debate to decide which society we want and how to shape our future with the great opportunities of robotics and AI without leaving anyone behind