Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Interview

Robotics MEP angry at lack of Commission response on AI

The author of a European Parliament report on artificial intelligence and robotics has told EUobserver she was growing frustrated with the lack of action on the issue from the European Commission - more than a year after the report was published.

"I thought the commission would come forward with some regulatory proposal, at least on something," said centre-left Luxembourgish MEP Mady Delvaux-Stehres.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A driverless shuttle vehicle in the UK. Delvaux points to the legal problems of the 'driver' of a driverless car being expected to react to difficult situations (Photo: Department for Transport (DfT))

"I don't see any progress in the matter," she said.

The parliament adopted the non-binding report drafted by Delvaux a year ago this month.

The commission has scheduled to announce "an initiative on artificial intelligence and robotics" at the end of April, but hard law is not in the cards.

"Of course they agree with everything, but they do not propose action," said Delvaux in an interview on Tuesday (27 February), at the Cybersec conference in Brussels.

Delvaux – and the 395 other MEPs who also supported the report – asked the commission to come with EU legislation on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Specifically, MEPs asked for "a proposal for a legislative instrument on legal questions related to the development and use of robotics and AI foreseeable in the next 10 to 15 years." Only the commission has the power to propose legislation.

No action from Commission

Delvaux said she feared that, in the absence of an EU directive or regulation, member states would each introduce their own laws, possibly conflicting with each other.

"Every country is mobilising, making action plans. One commissioner once told me, when members states start to pass or prepare laws then it is really urgent that the commission becomes active," she said.

"This is not a drama, we can live with it. But it would be much easier if we had common principles," she added.

Driverless cars

One of the most well-known examples of practical applications of artificial intelligence is the self-driving, or driverless car.

For that innovation to work, the most important thing is trust, said Delvaux.

"I think the car industry harmed themselves enormously with this Dieselgate," she noted, referring to the widespread practice of diesel cars being more dirty than the EU emissions limits allow.

"I don't trust anymore the car industry," said Delvaux, herself a former minister of transport.

She pointed to the German law on self-driving cars, adopted last year, which requires drivers still being able to take control of the wheel.

"The driver is liable for everything that happens. I am very sceptical. If you tell people that you can trust your car, and the car is driving, and suddenly the car tells you 'now you have to take over', I think this is very dangerous," she said.

"What I imagined [as] driverless car was that I really don't have to care – that I can do something else, read or sleep or play games, but not being liable for if a difficult situation appears."

One of the reasons why the commission has not yet proposed hard law, Delvaux said she thought, was because of the complexity and cross-sectoral nature of AI.

She noted that at least five departments of the commission needed to be involved: the directorates-general industry; research and innovation; mobility; communication networks; and justice and consumers.

"I think it is a difficult synergy between the competences," she said, referring to the EU jargon word for authority.

The centre-left MEP also stressed the importance of a commissioner's personal interest.

Until 1 January 2017, the digital economy was part of the portfolio of German EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

"I think Oettinger discovered robots too late. … He was really a friend of car industry. When he spoke about cars he was really illuminated. I think by the end, before he left, he discovered that robotics is an interesting issue," she said.

Now, Bulgarian commissioner Mariya Gabriel is in charge of the issue. Gabriel used to be an MEP, and she voted in favour of the Delvaux report calling for legislation.

"But of course she is not alone, and you need some time to convince your colleagues," the MEP said.

Time is something which is running out, at least for now.

"If it does not come before June, it is too late for this mandate," said Delvaux, adding she was not expecting any legislative proposal anymore.

After the summer, the parliament will go into campaign mode, with the European Parliament elections planned for May 2019. It will then be November 2019 before a new European Commission is in place.

"A file which has not been introduced before June – well you can discuss it, but it will not be adopted," said Delvaux.

Macron

Meanwhile however, pressure on the commission is increasing.

Last May, the commission rejected the parliament's suggestion for a European agency for robotics and AI. But a few months later, French president Emmanuel Macron proposed exactly such an agency.

At an EU summit last October, the EU's 28 leaders said that the commission should come with a "European approach to artificial intelligence" in early 2018.

"Member states want action, they want something to be done, [they] don't want only a paper," said Delvaux, adding the citizens supported that drive.

"For once there is agreement and consensus that we have to regulate at European level."

Autonomous weapons

For one field, Delvaux thinks it is already too late: autonomous weapons.

The automation of arms is something that was left outside the scope of the parliament report, because it was too complicated.

"It is also an issue we have to discuss on international level," said Delvaux.

"I would welcome if the European Union would come forward with ethical principles, and then we can say: we don't want autonomous weapons," she said.

"I'm afraid it is already too late. These weapons exist already. They could be used. I think this is dramatic. It's a disaster."

EU unsure how to 'make most' of AI

Whoever controls AI, 'will become the ruler of the world', according to Russian president Vladimir Putin. EU leaders want to move quickly to harness the opportunities of the technology.

Sex toys and smart robots: Who's liable?

Sex toys are being connected to the internet ad they can be hacked. Is that rape? And who would be responsible for misdeeds of autonomous robots?

'Killer robots' are not about Terminator

A European signatory of an open letter about autonomous weapons says the imagery of fictional killer robots is distracting from a seriously dangerous issue.

News in Brief

  1. German top lawmaker scolds Bettel over Johnson snub
  2. Greens decide on Tuesday on talks on Five Star joining
  3. Belgian mayors give Juncker a tongue-lashing
  4. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  5. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown
  6. Nato rings alarm on Gulf 'escalation'
  7. Luxembourg mockery of British leader sparks 'anger'
  8. Majority of Belgians against excluding Vlaams Belang

EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants

After marathon talks, EU negotiators agree on provisional copyright reform, requiring companies to filter content to prevent unauthorized work on their platform. Online platforms and open-internet advocates warn it will hurt the free flow of information.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  2. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  3. Trumpworld In Europe
  4. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  5. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  6. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  7. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  8. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us