Robots Work, Humans Relax

Recently, Mady Delvaux-Stehres, an MEP for the EU from Luxembourg, drafted legislation to rule robots as electronic persons. If passed, such legislation would make a robot closer to a person than an object in the eyes of the law.

Surprisingly, this draft is more focused on human rights than robotic ones.

In fact, one goal of the draft is to make robots legal parts of contracts. The more that robots and intelligent software become middlemen between buyers and sellers, the more likely it is that one of the two human parties can renege on their contract because technically, the other “person” in the contract is not a person. By giving the robot a form of partial citizenship, the human and the robot now have a valid contract.

This raises the obvious question: “Is artificial intelligence really that advanced?”


Alan Turing, the father of computer science, developed the Turing test to try to define AI. Essentially, if a human being can converse with software and not notice that it isn’t human, then the software has achieved artificial intelligence and self awareness. You can conduct this test yourself anytime – you’ll notice that when you ask Siri, Cortana, or Echo to marry you, they do not respond as if they were human.

But developers at IBM recently took the Turing test much further. Jill Watson, TA for a Georgia Institute of Technology online course, was an excellent tutor by day… and actually a computer program by night. Her students regularly emailed her with questions and noticed no difference between her and the other human TAs.

For five months.

In fact, the only thing that threw them off about her was the speed with which she responded to their questions.

IBM created Jill with the intent to increase participation in online classes. Usually, these classes have low retention rates because students don’t get enough attention from a teacher. Jill, and other programs like her, have the potential to maximize the impact of online learning by giving the human professors a helping hand (or byte).

While Jill Watson may be artificially intelligent, she is hardly what people imagine when they hear “robot”. But there are more physical robots en route to production that fit the stereotype of AI. The Robear is a bear-shaped humanoid robot designed to assist the elderly with simple home care. The robot, developed by the RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research and Sumitomo Riko Company (a mouthful), can lift people from beds and into wheelchairs with ease. The company states its goal to be to provide “powerful yet gentle care to elderly people.”

So the EU isn’t completely crazy–it’s just trying to get a jump on the dilemmas associated with artificial intelligence before they become dangerous.

Robot nurses and TAs raise another pressing question: Will human labor be replaced with robotic labor anytime soon? NPR can tell you how likely that is, and it ranges from 1% (mechanical engineers) to 98% (bank tellers).

In the midst of a technological revolution, the EU’s approach is remarkably far-sighted; instead of fearing the unknown territory of artificial intelligence, it has chosen to meet the challenge prepped and ready.

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