Enhancing responsible robotics development and societal acceptance: what should policy priorities focus on?

One of the fundamental goals of the Robotics4EU project is to advocate for responsible robotics among all stakeholder groups. Some of the responsible robotics principles can only be established with policy-makers actively engaging in promoting these principles. What should be the priorities of policies that aim to enhance responsible robotics development and societal acceptance?

On the 14th of June 2023, Robotics4EU invited a group of experts who research the ethical, legal and societal aspects of robotics and industry experts for a Responsible Robotics Policy Lab to discuss this question: David Bisset from euRobotics, Rowena Rodrigues representing SIENNA project, Lars Klüver and Nicklas Bang Bådum from HumanBrainProject, Alejandro Suárez representing euRobin, Laurynas Adomaitis from TechEthos, Diego Torricelli from Eurobench and Francisco Javier Pérez Grau from METRICS.

After two years of engagement activities with various stakeholders, including citizens, end-users, engineers, developers, and researchers in both robotics and ethical, social, and legal fields, Robotics4EU put forth several recommendations for discussion across key cross-cutting topics:

Citizen Engagement and Diversity

Citizen engagement plays a pivotal role in achieving societal acceptance of robotics. Although involving non-experts in the robotics development cycle may be perceived as burdensome and time-consuming, the participants stressed that citizens can contribute unexpected value to product development. Early engagement of citizens helps avoid misalignment between their expectations and the final product. Policymakers should advance the requirement for citizens’ engagement in research and innovation funds on the EU and National level, emphasizing the availability of methodologies and toolboxes for effective engagement.

Automation Effects on the Labour Market and Income Distribution

The impact of automation on income distribution, unemployment, and workers’ well-being sparks debate. While automation meets societal needs and enhances safety, productivity, and efficiency, concerns over technological unemployment and income inequality need addressing. Policies should conduct comprehensive analyses of the impact of automation, considering sectors, regions, and individual member states. Financial incentives should be provided to facilitate the reeducation of workers for robot utilization. Fiscal policy adjustments can encourage or discourage investment in automation. Additionally, including unions in decision-making processes and establishing clear auditing procedures is crucial.

Regulation and liability

Regarding regulation advancement, experts focused on the testing dimension: allowing robotics testing in public domains, also, following the example of medical testing and establishing approval mechanisms on a case-by-case. However, the risk of the burden of regulation for SMEs shall be considered and mitigated by providing access to legal consultations.

Data, Privacy, and Transparency

Data control and user awareness regarding autonomous data collection are critical concerns. To address this, standards and regulations should be developed to ensure data isolation within the machine, emphasizing privacy by design as a best practice. Users should not have to worry about their privacy, and manufacturers should be held responsible for ensuring data privacy.

Environmental Sustainability

Balancing the environmental benefits of robotics, such as reduced greenhouse emissions through the use of robots instead of heavy vehicles, with the disadvantages of robot production (resource utilization, waste generation, etc.) and social concerns (income inequality, safety risks, etc.) is essential. A comprehensive evaluation of the environmental impact of robotics is needed. For instance, while weeding robots reduce the need for chemicals, they can also have negative effects on biodiversity.

Cross-cutting topics

To advance the adoption of responsible robotics, it is crucial to allocate integral roles to the social, ethical, and legal dimensions in project design as a prerequisite for funding. Furthermore, engineering curricula should include education on responsible robotics to cultivate an ethical-first mindset from an early stage.

The insights provided by experts will be taken for the further investigation by the Robotics4EU team. If you have any insights to share with us on the mentioned recommendations, please let us know via info@robotics4eu.eu

It should be noted that the summary of the expert discussion presented here reflects the collective views of the participants, but the specific points and recommendations may not necessarily represent the individual opinions of the experts.

Author: Jovita Tautkevičiūtė (Civitta)


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