Hammurabi for Robots

The European Union is considering getting the ball rolling with setting up some legal standards in relation to robots and their use. The document alludes to the fictional books which have laid the groundwork for our conceptualization of how robots will need to be handled in order to be viable in society. The draft again seems to struggle to understand how complex defining Artificial Intelligence is going to be.

“Calls on the Commission to propose a common European definition of smart autonomous robots and their subcategories by taking into consideration the following characteristics of a smart robot:
  • acquires autonomy through sensors and/or by exchanging data with its environment (inter-connectivity) and trades and analyses data
  • is self-learning (optional criterion) 
  • has a physical support
  • adapts its behaviours and actions to its environment;”
Defining a robot and its intelligence is certainly a Herculean task, but this list seems suspect right off the bat. I have absolutely no idea what was intended to be described by “has a physical support”. If we forget that limitation, basically every computerized piece hardware on the planet would fit this definition. For example, any device with a fan uses sensors to exchange information with the environment and adapts its behaviors accordingly. The document does go on to specify that further categorization are going to need to be developed by the industry, which is great. 

This is certainly a good sign that someone is proposing legislation along these lines. On the other hand, this is a legal field that needs to expand extremely quickly. Right now the biggest issue will be putting limits on how much ownership we give these objects and algorithms which are distinctly not sentient. If this legislation highlights anything, it is that there will most certainly need to be far more than one law in regards to robots and artificial intelligence. When you think about how many of these devices will exist and how broad their applications will be, that’s scarily analogous to having one law for all of human interactions.