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Robots may receive the status of a legal entity in Estonia

The changes planned in Estonian laws governing robotics are quite radical. If the most radical scenario is enforced, robots may even receive the status of a legal entity.

For almost ten months an expert team on robotic vehicles, created by the Ministry of Economics and Communication and the Government Office has conducted its research. During that time a legal analysis was ordered from law office Triniti – and its results are quite stunning. The recommendations include creating a special robotics law and making radical changes in the Civil Code, business paper Ärileht writes.

According to Marten Kaevats, the digital innovation adviser at the Government Office, it has been concluded that the government should not deal only with self-driving cars and the Traffic Act. “To ensure that the laws in the future will be simpler, more easily understood and that there will be no need to constantly upgrade them, the idea of dealing with artificial intelligence in a broader scale has emerged,” Kaevats said. “The main question is the responsibility of artificial intelligence.”

The question of who is responsible when an incident occurs due to the functioning or malfunctioning of artificial intelligence system, is the main one being discussed. A major change in paradigm may be needed to enforce new regulations on robotics – but for that a wider discussion in the society is needed first.

There are four different scenarios being discussed for enforcing the needed changes. The least radical one of them is to focus just on traffic law and self-driving vehicles, meaning that changes would be needed only to Estonia’s traffic laws.

The second one would, in addition to changes to the Traffic Act focus on robots and robots with a physical body, also focus on algorithms, sensors, etc – creating a special law to regulate the different fields of robotics.

The third one would, in addition to creating a special law on robotics and making changes in traffic law, entail some changes in Civil Code. This would include the part of the code regulating declarations of intention and authorisation. For example when a ‘smart’ fridge’s artificial intelligence finds that you have run out of milk, it will order some more – but only if you have authorised it to make the purchase.

The fourth and boldest scenario would include turning a robot into a legal entity of its own – one that can represent its owner to the extent defined by him or her. A similar idea was recently proposed to the European Commission by the European Parliament. Also, it is believed by many law professionals that creating such a legal entity is unavoidable in the next five to eight years.

Every one of the scenarios mentioned has its pros and cons – and thus a lot of further discussion is needed.

At the same time, international corporations for whom this may mean a chance to test their new products and services are already closely watching Estonia’s steps.

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