Robots May Earn Legal Status

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. inadequacy / ɪnˈæd ɪ kwə si / (n) – a shortage

    There is an inadequacy of guidelines, so they cannot decide about the case.

  2. liable / ˈlaɪ ə bəl / (adj) – taking responsibility for something

    He is liable for the delay in the project.

  3. deactivate / diˈæk təˌveɪt / (v) – to turn off

    They deactivated the computers in the room.

  4. violate / ˈvaɪ əˌleɪt / (v) – to break a rule

    They violated company rules by taking pictures of private documents.

  5. draw the line / drɔ ðə laɪn / (idiom) – to set a boundary or limit

    You need to draw the line on the amount of workload that you will be taking.


Read the text below.

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have passed a report that urges the implementation of policies on the use and development of robots.

Mady Delvaux-Stehres [del-VOH-sh-TEY-res], an MEP from Luxembourg /ˈlʌk səmˌbɜrg/, authored the report to address the inadequacy of existing rules in dealing with the coming technological revolution. The report, which seeks the help of the European commission in granting robots the legal status of electronic persons, indicates that robots can be held liable for their actions. In addition, it recommends robots to be installed with kill switches, which allow them to be deactivated if necessary.

Delvaux-Stehres stressed that science, particularly robotics, affects people’s daily lives. Nevertheless, the increasing abilities of robots pose a threat to humans. Having more skilled and intelligent robots could lessen opportunities for employment. For this reason, the enactment of laws is needed to ensure that robots will continue to carry out tasks for humans.

The report includes three laws, which are based on science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s work on robots’ behavior toward people.  First, a robot may not directly harm a human being or let a human being be harmed. Second, a robot must obey orders from a human being unless it violates the first law. Lastly, a robot must protect itself as long as it does not violate the first two laws.

Despite the request indicated in the report, MEP Therese Comodini Cachia emphasized that robots will never acquire human characteristics no matter how self-governing they become. However, she also pointed out that such laws are necessary to draw the line on whether the robots or their operators should be held accountable for the destruction caused by robots.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you agree that robots should be given a legal status? Why or why not?
• Do you agree that robots can replace humans in the workplace? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• In what situations can a robot harm a human? Discuss.
• Aside from implementing laws and installing kill switches, what are other ways to make sure that robots do not harm humans?