April 5, 2017
The rise of robots and automation in the workplace will lead to drastic changes to laws across the world, a new report suggests. The present wave of automation, driven by artificial intelligence (AI) – the development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence – is creating a gap between current legislation and new laws necessary for an emerging workplace reality, states a report published by the International Bar Association Global Employment Institute (IBA GEI). Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Their Impact on the Workplace focuses on potential future trends in AI, and the likely impact intelligent systems will have on the labour market, companies, employees’ working time, remuneration and the workplace environment.
In addition to illustrating the thread and importance of law in relation to these areas, the GEI report assesses the law at different points in the automation cycle – from the developmental stage, when computerisation of an industry begins, to what workers may experience as AI becomes more prevalent, through to issues of responsibility when things go wrong. These components are not examined in isolation, but in the context of economics, business and social environment.
Gerlind Wisskirchen, IBA GEI Vice Chair for Multinationals and coordinator of the report, commented: ‘Certainly, technological revolution is not new, but in past times it has been gradual. What is new about the present revolution is the alacrity with which change is occurring, and the broadness of impact being brought about by AI and robotics. Jobs at all levels in society presently undertaken by humans are at risk of being reassigned to robots or AI, and the legislation once in place to protect the rights of human workers may be no longer fit for purpose, in some cases.’
She added: ‘The AI phenomenon is on an exponential curve, while legislation is doing its best on an incremental basis. New labour and employment legislation is urgently needed to keep pace with increased automation.’
In the example of the automotive industry, the report identifies competitive disadvantage between Europe and the United States in the developmental stage of autonomous driving. Germany and the US are recognised as the market leaders in this area. However, in contrast to the US, European laws prevent autonomous driving on public roads, though there are some exceptions for research vehicles. US companies are not faced with the same restrictions; they are therefore able to develop at a faster pace and as a result are likely to bring products to market sooner than their European competitors. Europe’s restrictive older regulations impede technical progress of autonomous driving for companies operating within its borders, potentially placing them at a disadvantage in the marketplace.
Since motor vehicles will be driven by fully automated systems in the future, it is conceivable that jobs such as truck, taxi or forklift drivers will be eliminated in the long run. The report states there is a 90 per cent likelihood of this happening, with developers of connected trucks stating: ‘technical changes that will take place in the next ten years will be more dramatic than the technical advancements over the last 50 or 60 years’. The report points to cost savings of up to 28 per cent as logistics become cheaper, more reliable and more flexible. At the fully automated stage, costs will be further reduced as the requirement for rest breaks is eliminated, illness or inebriation is no longer a risk factor, and accidents are minimised.
Nevertheless, the report examines the issue of liability when failure does occur, concluding that: ‘The liability issues may become an insurmountable obstacle to the introduction of fully automated driving.’ Currently, in most cases driver responsibility is assumed, with the manufacturer liable only for product defects, and vehicle owners subject to special owner’s liability, particularly in European countries. However, if a vehicle is fully automated, with a human driver no longer actively steering, the question arises as to whether damage can still be attributed to the driver or the owner of the car, or whether only the manufacturer of the system can be held liable.
The report’s authors examine whether rules applicable to other automated areas, such as aviation, can be applied, but reason that: ‘it is not possible to apply the liability rules from other automated areas to automated driving’, and that international liability standards with clear rules are needed.
Pascale Lagesse, Co-Chair of the IBA GEI, commented: ‘Without doubt AI, robotics and increased automation will bring about changes in society at every level, in every sector and in every nation. This fourth industrial revolution will concurrently destroy and create jobs and paradoxically benefit and impair workers in ways that are not entirely clear or not yet imagined. What is evident, however, is that a monumental paradigm shift is occurring and that concurrent legal uncertainties need to be addressed within labour and employment laws geared to the technological developments.’
She added: ‘Greater governmental collaboration across borders may be necessary if commerce is to thrive. States as lawmakers will have to be bold in decision, determining what jobs should be performed exclusively by humans, for example: caring for babies; perhaps introducing human quotas in different sectors; taxing companies where machines are used; and maybe introducing a “made by humans” label for consumer choice. Our new report posits these ideas and more, and could not be more timely.’