Robots will change humanity

Europe, more than any other continent, has progressive attitudes towards the advancements of science and technology and their impact on humanity. Europeans generally have a more balanced attitude towards most things which affect their lives, given that they are one of the most impacted peoples of this world due to the two world wars and untold miseries caused by various religious wars. Such atrocities over the past several centuries have improved the capabilities of Europeans to deal with the future in a manner which shows their inbuilt humanitarian streak. Not so with the rest of the world, which mostly accepts the blatant intrusion of technology into their daily lives without much of questioning the real value and its impact on humankind.

So, I was not surprised when I read the recent proposals on robots presented to the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee last week, which are wide-ranging, insightful and thought-provoking. It is of course, not going to be easy to pass the law which tries to regulate the operation of robots and protect the wages of people whose jobs could be threatened by an influx of robots. However, the comprehensiveness of the proposals dazzled me, and made me think. This is how exactly a parliament should function – take up issues of importance to the people early on, and formulate a comprehensive framework to deal with the issues ahead of anyone else, which means European Parliamentarians do their job in a manner which is far more advanced than any other continent or nation on earth. To even think that robots are going to become an important part of humanity in the near future (though it is slowly happening) is amazing, given that the report was prepared by a Member of the European Parliament. Such advanced thinking by lawmakers is what differentiates Europe from the rest of the world, including the U.S. and other developed countries.

My own view on robots taking over the jobs (at least the “repetitive” jobs) of thousands of workers (including workers in information technology industry) is rather socialistic: while robots can be used for painting cars in an automotive plant, or to retrieve spent fuel from a nuclear plant, or to defuse bombs and similar unsafe operations, to use a robot to reduce operational costs in a regular industry would be counter-productive. Companies will start adoption of robots to replace their IT departments, or Finance departments (not 100% but say a 50% adoption rate is not unthinkable). Countries which produce a million educated people a month like India are not going to take kindly to even global companies trying to improve their bottomlines by adopting robots which do not try to form a trade union and listen to instructions, rather than arguing back. Robots may be needed in countries like Japan for providing care to elderly folks who cannot afford to hire a local (human) caregiver. In fact, the world needs to create millions of jobs for its current population which is looking for jobs. How can we argue in favour of robots, except to agree to deploy them in hazardous environments?

It is very interesting to read the report that has been presented to the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament which has even attempted to designate very advanced robots as “electronic persons”, potentially with legal rights and liabilities. Companies using robots might even be asked to pay taxes and social security for the robots they deploy in their workforce. People whose jobs are challenged by robots need to be protected in some way, and Europe appears to be heading towards a minimum income for every citizen. The report contemplates implementation of an insurance scheme for robots to pay for claims by humans affected by accidents created by robots – like in driverless cars, for example. The report requires registration of robots of the advanced type with the robotics and artificial intelligence agency that it is suggesting should be set up by the European Commission.

Amazing thinking, I should say. Has any other country legislated, or even thought about doing something with the burgeoning population of robots?

We should start thinking of the day when robots will have emotions and self-awareness, which is not far away. Technology is progressing non-stop, however that should not stop us from thinking not only of benefiting from such robotic intelligence but also to ensure that humanity is not wiped out of the planet earth by robots one day.


Vijay Srinivasan

15th January 2017



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