The Safe Performance of Robots: A Matter of Law

Robots and Human Safety

ns5It seems that some governments are taking very seriously the possibility of the everyday use of robots in society. Japan and South Korea are worried about human safety in a world where many critical tasks can be performed by machines. They share the Issac Asimov’s vision of a future world where human beings and robots coexist. However, they don’t seem to trust mechanical creatures controlled by only three simple laws.

As reported by The Times a few weeks ago, Japanese robotics experts assure that the famous Three Laws are not enough to keep us safe when the next generation robots become a reality. A 60 page draft document titled ‘Guidelines to Secure the Safe Performance of Next Generation Robots’ is being discussed by the industry, researchers, and lawyers with the aim to elaborate a law that protect us effectively.

This draft document proposes the creation of a central database where all incidents of human harmed by robots will be recorded and accessible by robot manufacturers. Therefore, robots must be equipped with the corresponding mechanisms to log and communicate any injures they cause to people during their task accomplishment. Japan is envisioning a near future where robots play a key role in society and they have detected the need for a well-built regulation. It is foreseen that the domestic robot market grow in Japan up to more than 3.3 trillion yen in the next 15 years. Assistant robots able to help and chat with pensioners are already a reality. Nursing robots, security patrol robots, home assistant robots are going to be common in the coming years.

South Korea is also working in an ethical code for robots. The designed committee is to establish a code of conduct for the life of intelligent robots. The Asimov’s Three Laws are also seen insufficient by South Korea. Identifying robot units, preventing their illegal use, and assuring data privacy are other aspects that need to be taken into account.

It seems that the dawn of the age of robots is coming as predicted by Bill Gates [1], however it shouldn’t be seen as a dangerous or problematic issue as it won’t be as shocking and fast as predicted. In fact, it is already happening for many years. Don’t you think so? Look at these figures:

  • Year 2000: 742.500 Robots Worldwide (Japan 402.200; USA 92.900; Spain 10.500) [2].
  • Year 2003: 1.400.000 Robots Worldwide (BBC News).
  • Year 2004: 1.500.000 Robots Worldwide. [3]
  • Forecast for 2006-2009: It is projected that sales of all types of domestic robots (vacuum cleaning, lawn-mowing, window cleaning and other types) in the period 2006-2009 could reach some 3.9 million units.
    The market for entertainment and leisure robots, which includes toy robots, is forecast at about 1.6 million units, most of which, of course, are very low cost. [4].

[3] UN/ECE. Press release ECE/STAT/03/P03