Europe is experiencing a momentous period of change. Globalization, automation, decarbonization, emerging and digital technologies: they all have an impact on jobs, industrial sector, business models, the economy and the society as a whole.  It is crucial to help Europeans adapt to these profound changes and to help the EU economy to become more resilient. It is a cliché to say that the world is more uncertain than ever before, but few realize just how much uncertainty has increased over the past 50 years, and especially over the last 10 years. Technological uncertainty results from unknowns regarding the technologies that might emerge or be combined to create a new solution. Have we already reached the point where we need to devise a legislative instrument on new technological issues such as robotics and artificial intelligence?

„We have to be cautious and address concrete problems we are facing today and carefully assess if the current legislation is fit for purpose.“
Roberto Viola, director general of DG Connect in his speech addressed to the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee concerning issues of Artificial intelligence/Robotics

“Digital technologies and digital communications are permeating every aspect of life. We need to work for a Europe that empowers our citizens and our economy. And today, both have gone digital.”
President Juncker in his State of the European Union speech on 14 September 2016

Given the great public attention currently devoted to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), this topic is very timely and points at some crucial issues that need to be addressed. It highlights the opportunities robotics and AI offer and points towards the clear need for a coherent European approach and for Europe to have a strong presence and investment in this technology in order to maintain leadership in it.

It is time to identify Robotics and Artificial intelligence as cornerstone technologies, to address the new legal challenges related to robots, autonomous and AI-based systems, blockchain technologies and to highlights issues related to skills. Europe will be able to shape this and future debates and introduce European values such as human dignity only if it maintains a strong leadership role. The issues raised will need broader stakeholder consultations and an in-depth analysis of their impact and consequences. Only after these findings are available and facts have been established can Europe conclude how to move forward, especially with regards to legislative measures.

„The deep paradox uncovered by AI research: the only way to deal efficiently with very complex problems is to move away from pure logic…. Most of the time, reaching the right decision requires little reasoning…. Expert systems are, thus, not about reasoning: they are about knowing…. Reasoning takes time, so we try to do it as seldom as possible. Instead we store the results of our reasoning for later reference. “

Daniel Crevier, AI: The Tumultuous History of the Search for Artificial Intelligence;

Scientific research on these emerging technologies seems to imply that they will change the face of society. Therefore, even if robots are not yet as common as most of us think, the time has come to legislate. Once a new legal and ethical sector surfaces, a general approach to the big theoretical questions needs to be found in the first instance, so as to eliminate any misunderstanding or misconceptions about robotics and artificial intelligence. This will become all the more crucial once the liability law solutions adopted in respect of autonomous robots determine whether this new market booms or busts.

In addition to ethical issues, liability risks and other dangers that humans could face, EU politicians will also be looking at the potential changes that could be forced on the world of work as automation becomes more prevalent. It is nothing new: robots have been revolutionizing the international scene for some time and their influence will only increase in the following years.

Today, artificial intelligence (AI), which was once thought to live purely in the realm of the human imagination, is a very real and looming prospect. In a case of life imitating art, we are faced with the question of whether artificial intelligence is dangerous and if its benefits far outweigh its potential for very serious consequences to all of humanity.

It’s no longer a question of if, but when.

Self-driving cars are becoming more common every day, our cellphones and smart devices know more about us than some of our friends, and thanks to that insight they give us recommendation on which way to go, what to eat and when to sleep. AI is slowly permeating every aspect of our common lives and this raises many ethical, security and privacy questions.

While the birth of AI is surely a utilitarian quest in that our natural tendencies are to improve upon prior iterations of life through the advancement of technology, and that AI will clearly pave the way for a heightened speed of progress, is it also spelling out the end of all humanity? Is our species’ hubris in crafting AI systems ultimately going to be blamed for its downfall if it occurs? Is privacy possible at all in the AI era? Much has been written about AI’s potential to reflect both the best and the worst of humanity. For example, we have seen AI providing conversation and comfort to the lonely; we have also seen AI engaging in racial discrimination. Where do we draw the limits of what AI can and cannot do and how do we prevent abuse and security risks of maliciously programmed AI?

Finally, one has to inquire about the philosophical aspects of the issue. Can a machine have a mind, consciousness, and mental states? Will we treat AI devices and robots equally as humans once they reach our level of intelligence?