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Europeans Express Positive Views on AI and Robotics: Report on Preliminary Results from Public Consultations

Posted in AI and Machine Learning, Big Data, European Union, Privacy
Carole Piovesan

On October 6, 2017, the European Parliament released its preliminary findings on its public consultation on robotics and artificial intelligence. The consultations resulted in 298 responses reflecting public perceptions about the risks and benefits of AI technology. According to the EU Committee website, the results of the consultation will inform the Parliament’s position on ethical, economic, legal, and social issues arising in the area of robotics and artificial intelligence for civil use.

Among the key findings were that there is strong support for a central EU regulatory body, in part to protect “EU values” (especially data protection, privacy and ethics) and to address  significant public concern regarding issues of data protection.

Background

The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs set up a working group in 2015 with the aim of drawing up “European” civil law rules regarding robots and artificial intelligence. While the European Commission has the right to initiate laws, the Parliament is able to draft a motion for resolution, which if passed, can prompt the Commission to create a proposal for legislation.

The Parliament passed a resolution on February 16, 2017 titled “Civil Law Rules on Robotics”, asking the Commission to propose rules on robotics and artificial intelligence, in order to fully exploit their economic potential and to guarantee a standard level of safety and security.

The goal of the Parliament seemed to be to place the EU at the forefront of developing regulation for artificial intelligence and robots. Part of the reason for this was to ensure that human rights and ethical concerns are protected and that EU values (especially data protection, privacy and ethics) were paramount.

The Parliament proposed a Charter on Robotics, which is a code of ethical conduct for robotics engineers, research ethics committees, and a license for designers and users (annexed to the Resolution).

The resolution called on the European Commission to propose legislation on various topics including:

  • General principles concerning the development of robotics and artificial intelligence for civil use – for example by creating a classification system for robots (see para. 1);
  • Research and innovation guidelines (see paras. 6-9);
  • Ethical principles (see paras. 10-14);
  • Creating a “European Agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence” (see paras. 15-17);
  • Intellectual property rights and the flow of data (see paras. 18-21);
  • Standardization, safety and security – for example by harmonising technical standards (see paras. 22-23);
  • Autonomous means of transportation (see paras. 24-30);
  • Creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run, in order to establish who is liable if they cause damage;
  • Environmental impact (see paras. 47-48); and,
  • Liability related to robots[1] – for example, to clarify liability issues for self-driving cars (see paras. 49-59), and to create a mandatory insurance scheme and a supplementary fund to ensure that victims of accidents caused by driverless cars are compensated (see para. 57).

In May 2017, the European Commission published a preliminary response to some of Parliament’s recommendations. While the Commission agreed with many of Parliament’s suggestions, it has not made any proposals on the issues yet.

Overall in the Commission’s response, it agreed with the Parliament that there is a “need for legal certainty as to the allocation of liability” in the context of new technologies. To this end, the Commission “intends to work with the European Parliament and the Member States on an EU response.”

The Commission noted that it awaits the response of the Parliament’s public consultation, and that it will conduct its own public consultation and stakeholder dialogue on the issues.

Results of Public Consultation

The preliminary results of the Parliament’s public consultation were released on October 6, 2017. A PowerPoint summarizing the results is available here. The public consultations were open to all EU citizens and consisted of one general public survey and one survey targeted to a “specialized” audience. The trends emerging from the consultations showed:

  • the vast majority of respondents have positive views on robotics and AI developments but want careful management of the technology;
  • despite the positive attitude towards the technology, the majority of respondents are concerned about privacy interests and the possible threat of AI and robotics to humanity;
  • 90% of respondents support public regulation of robotics and AI with only 6% against regulation and 4% noted as “other”;
  • reasons given in support of public regulation include:
    • avoid abuse by industry;
    • need to address concerns about ethics, human rights, data protection and privacy;
    • need to set common standards for industry to have certainty; and,
    • consumer protection.
  • reasons given against public regulation include:
    • too soon to regulate emerging technology;
    • harms competitiveness;
    • hinders innovation and creativity; and,
    • general skepticism with regulation.
  • 96% of respondents agree that international regulation of AI and robotics is desirable as well;
  • the top four reasons in support of EU-wide regulation of AI and robotics are:
    • data protection;
    • values and principles;
    • liability rules; and,
    • EU competitiveness.
  • public opinion regarding sectors in urgent need of EU-wide regulation is almost equally shared between (a) autonomous vehicles; (b) medical robots; (c) care robots; (d) drones; and, (e) human repair and enhancement.

A summary report of the findings of the public consultation will be publicly available in due course.

Interestingly, European public opinion appears to be much more positive towards automation technologies than U.S. public opinion, based on the results of a recently-release report by the Pew Research Centre. The Center surveyed 4,135 U.S. adults between May 1 and 15, 2017, and found that “Americans generally express more worry than enthusiasm when asked about these automation technologies.” A summary of the report is available here.

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[1] EP resolution 16 Feb 2017,Paras 49-59