Estonia Proposes Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Robots

Robotic hand accessing on laptop the virtual world of information. Concept of artificial intelligence and replacement of humans by machines.

First, Estonia launched a set of revolutionary delivery robots cruising the pavements of the Estonian capital Tallinn in the past summer. Now, the Baltic country has moved forward with its plans to give a new legal status to all of its smart robots.

“The legislative process regarding bots and Al has just begun,” Marten Kaevats, a digital officer in the Estonian government told Emerging Europe. “The first full draft of the law was published in Estonian on October 16 and now goes to the public for discussion.” The law will affect not only self-driving cars, but also self-regulating refrigerators, smart teddy bears and other brainy toys, as well as broker bots, SIRI and some other human-acting electronic gadgets.

“In the government we believe that there should be legislation on Al and bot liability, although many do not understand the need for it,” Mr Kaevets said. “The existing traffic rules do not suffice for driverless cars. Self-driving vehicles are just robots on wheels,” he added.

The draft law envisions granting ‘human’ liabilities to all bots.

“We intend to give representative rights to every Al. This means that if you are the owner of a particular AI, it can buy and sell services and goods on your behalf with all the relevant duties and responsibilities,” Kaevats continued.

Estonia, however, may stumble upon plenty of hurdles along the way — not only politically, but also in the way laws are designed in the region.

A law firm put by the government in charge of analysis for the Al and robot legislation has cautioned that granting Al and robots personal rights and responsibilities “goes detrimentally against Europe’s humanist history of law.”

The EU parliament has also held debates on the issue, with some MEPs speaking in favour of giving bots a ‘personhood’ status. Others want them to pay taxes.

“Part of the proposed Estonian legislation may be subject to amendments due to the Al and robot law,” Mr Kaevets said. “That is the whole idea of this approach. If we change something meaningfully, then we need to make minor changes to other laws at first. In the long-term, it is opening a completely new paragraph in legal history.”

Asked whether the bot legislation aims to further shape Estonia’s image as an advanced IT country, Mr Kaevats replied that the buzz was certainly good for Estonia.

Maarja Rannama, project manager at Estonian ICT Cluster, underscored that the draft reflects the Estonian IT reality.

“The solution is worked out by the legal team of the Estonian Autonomous Vehicles expert group and serves as a basis for pursuing this kind of legislation,” she told Emerging Europe.

The Al and Robot law should be presented for discussion in the Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, by March 2019.

Estonia is home to NATO’s cyber-defence centre and is also known as the birthplace of Skype. The country has introduced e-residency, e-government and e-subscription of medicine.