Who will compensate you if you get hurt by a robot?

Injured by a robot? EU legislators set out to address liability issues

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European legislators want to set standards for damage liability in potential accidents caused by robotics and artificial intelligence technologies including autonomous cars as the fast-evolving field threatens to shake up the industrial landscape.

The MEPs’ proposal to the EU Commission asks for a mandatory insurance scheme covering driverless cars as well as a fund for compensating future victims of crashes involving the autonomous technology.

The MEPs, however, rejected a proposal by Luxembourgian socialist politician Mady Delvaux to introduce a robot tax for businesses to protect workers threatened by redundancy.

“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,” said Delvaux.

“They rejected an open-minded and forward-looking debate and thus disregarded the concerns of our citizens.”

The MEP recognises the economic benefits the robotics and artificial intelligence revolution can bring to the industry but worries about social instability that uptake of the technology might cause.

According to the World Economic Forum, five million human jobs could be taken by robots globally by 2020 and that is just the beginning.

Workers in low-skilled professions are likely to be most affected and the risk of rising unemployment rates and social tension is worrying the legislators.

Regulatory standards for robots are being planned in several countries and the MEPs believe EU should become a leader in the field.

The MEPs also ask the Commission to consider creating a specific legal status for robots and introduce a Code of Ethical Conduct governing privacy standards and reinforcing respect for human dignity.

In January this year the MEPs called for a new European Agency for Robotics to be established overseeing the fast-evolving field.

The European Commission has yet to react to the recommendations.

“The EU needs to take the lead on setting these standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third countries,” the parliament said in a statement.

The decision to reject the robot tax was hailed by the robotics industry, which says it would stunt innovation.

“The IFR believes that the idea to introduce a robot tax would have had a very negative impact on competitiveness and employment,” the Frankfurt-based International Federation of Robotics told Reuters.

The IFR and others argue that automation and the use of robots create new jobs by increasing productivity, and point to a correlation between robot density and employment in advanced industrial nations, for example in the German car industry.

Global shipments of industrial robots rose 15 per cent in 2015, according to the latest statistics from the IFR, and were worth a total of about $46bn. Demand for service robots for medical, domestic and personal use is also on the rise.

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