Robot "Rights"

In the midst of fears of automation phasing out human employees, the robotics industry seems to be facing another hurdle.

The European parliament’s committee on legal affairs submitted a draft on May 31st, 2016 proposing that robots be categorized as “electronic persons” and companies employing them as workers should be required to pay taxes and social security for them.

The draft mentions "that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations."

The draft also proposes a registry for smart autonomous robots to ensure they are legally accounted for. On top of this, they state that companies must declare how much money they saved in social security contributions by replacing manpower with robots.

Revenues Under Threat

It seems the EU is starting to worry that automation would become so big a thing that the unemployment it would create would be substantial enough to make a huge dent in revenue from human income taxes and contributions.

Obviously, this is a proposition that does not sit well with everyone. German organization VDMA, which speaks for robot manufacturers like Siemens and Kuka, says it’s too early in the evolution stage of robotics to require something that is likely to hinder the development of the industry.

“That we would create a legal framework with electronic persons - that’s something that could happen in 50 years, but not in 10 years,” said Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of the VDMA’s robotic and automation department. “We think it would be very bureaucratic and would stunt the development of robotics.”

In addition, Schwarzkopf argues that the correlation between automation and unemployment is not definitively proven. He points out that between 2010 and 2015, industrial robots supply rose by 17% in the automotive industry, and so did the number of employees—by 13%. This is, of course, is a point that is highly debated, with a number of predictions and recent events suggesting otherwise.

Now, while this is an unsettling proposition for robot manufacturers and companies gearing towards automation, the draft is a long way from materializing. Even with full support from the Parliament, it does not have the authority to propose legislation. 

Given the advancement of automation and its inevitable substitution of human workers, it is, however, a topic worth debating now.

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