The development of robotics and artificial intelligence raise legal and ethical issues. This evening, MEPs in the European Parliament debated rules to regulate their use, including the creation of a separate legal status for robots.

GUE/NGL Shadow Rapporteur, Jiri Mastalka, acknowledged the need for deep thinking around the impact of robotics in society but in particular on job security:

“The Commission’s SPARC programme will invest 2.8 billion euros in robotics to create 240,000 new jobs by 2020. Yet, we’ve also seen studies that demonstrate the exact opposite. For example in the Czech Republic, around 140,000 jobs could be lost to automation by 2025.”

“Whichever scenario turns out to be true, it is quite clear this is the end of the single-job career. Our education system will have to be adjusted and we will have to train people adequately. We are now in a similar situation to industrial workers when their labour was replaced by machines. We will need to find new answers for these social, ethical and legal questions.”

Portuguese MEP João Pimenta expressed reservations about the direction of the proposals on robotics that have been agreed upon in the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI):

“The ideas presented do not protect the national interest in the development of the robotics sector, with support from public policies of investment, research and development. A narrow approach is also taken on the analysis of their impact on jobs, namely the increase in precarity, impoverishment, unemployment and erosion of labour and social rights, ignoring the role of capital in increasing exploitation with the goal of profits.”

“There is also no reference or condemnation of the use of robotics for military and security purposes. We do not want legislative harmonisation in this area or the creation of an agency that will limit the capacity of each member state to develop themselves according to their interests.”

Finnish MEP Merja Kyllönen gave an optimistic perspective to the development of robotics and the benefits they can bring to society:

“Robotics is often seen as a threat and as the reason why there is less employment in many sectors. But societies are able to adapt as they have in the last three industrial revolutions. We do, however, need new types of knowledge, skills, and changes in our education system and terms of employment. These changes need to be well led and managed.”

“Automation and robotics do not always mean jobs lost. In my home country of Finland, a local car manufacturer purchased 300 new robots for the factory and this created 1,000 new jobs. I believe we can approach this social change with curiosity and optimism, and not only with dystopian visions,” Kyllönen added.

The Finnish MEP expressed satisfaction with the EU’s leadership in establishing a legislative framework for robotics:

“I fully support the need for an EU legislative framework that helps the development and use of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics. The EU should take the leadership or otherwise others will dictate the terms and global standards in this field,” Kyllönen concluded. 

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