Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots

Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots
File photo: Eric Piermont/AFP
The threat to humans from robots is no longer the stuff of science-fiction according to a Swiss lawyer who has proposed an international treaty to protect us – and the robots – from harm.

On Wednesday Sébastien Fanti, a lawyer from the canton of Valais, presented the first international treaty on the rights of robots at a conference in Shanghai, reported daily Le Matin.

The Lexing conference brought together lawyers from all over the world to discuss the legal implications of robotics and related areas.

According to Fanti, the law is falling behind technology, which could have serious consequences for the use of robots in daily life, such as driverless cars.

“If the algorithm must choose between braking and killing the passenger who is isn’t wearing a seatbelt or running over the pedestrian on the crossing, what will it do?,” Fanti told the paper.

Switzerland is at the forefront of the driverless vehicle revolution, with the city of Sion in the Valais being one of the first towns in the world to pilot driverless buses on the streets.

As well as protecting us from machines, the treaty would apply in reverse, too.

Fanti, who owns a robot himself and has observed people's reactions to it, pointed out that many people don’t consider certain robots as machines or objects “because they have too much autonomy”.

As such, we must learn to live together and put laws in place to protect both human and robot, warned Fanti.

“In ten years I think there will be some abuse towards robots. We must have laws, otherwise it will be a real shambles,” he said.

Fanti’s published text outlines the challenges that robots present and compares the current varying responses of 17 countries, including Switzerland.

An international treaty on the subject is necessary  to “standardize the rules at international level because the robots could be made in China but used in the entire world,” he told Le Matin.

“Robots are the future and they will be everywhere in our daily life. If we don’t act, if we don’t put laws in place, there will be deaths.”

Earlier this year experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos said robots were being developed that could correct children’s homework, sort the laundry and help those needing care in the home.

But they also warned about the dangers of developing “killer robots”, meaning robotic weapons with artificial intelligence that could be used in warfare.

In 2015 around 1,000 scientists said in an open letter than the development of autonomous weapons – as opposed to drones controlled by humans – could be possible within years, and called for a ban on offensive weapons that are beyond meaningful human control.

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