Robot & AI Governance
Policy and Standard Contribution
Contribution to the revision of the Product Safety Directive: Serving the Consumer Safety Network
During Jan-Dec 2020 Eduard Fosch-Villaronga served as an expert at the Consumer Safety Network, advising the European Commission in the revision of the General Product Safety Directive in the Sub-Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI), connected products and other new challenges in product safety. See the opinion here.
CWA 17835:2022 on Guidelines for the development and use of safety testing procedures in human-robot collaboration
As a result of his participation to LIAISON and the H2020 COVR, Dr. Eduard Fosch-Villaronga contributed to the CEN Workshop Agreement CWA 17835:2022 on Guidelines for the development and use of safety testing procedures in human-robot collaboration.
Scientific contributions to the governance of robots
Fosch-Villaronga, E. & Giraudo, M. (2022) Innovation Letter: Experimenting with Competing Techno-Legal Standards for Robotics. Journal of Law, Market & Innovation, 1(3), 9-14.
There are legitimacy and discriminatory issues relating to overreliance on private standards to regulate new technologies. On the legitimacy plane, we see that standards shift the centralization of regulation from public democratic processes to private ones that are not subject to the rule of law guarantees reviving the discussion on balancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of techno-legal solutions, which only further aggravates this complex panorama. On the discriminatory plane, incentive issues exacerbate discriminatory outcomes over often marginalized communities. Indeed, standardization bodies do not have incentives to involve and focus on minorities and marginal groups because 'unanimity' of the voting means among those sitting at the table, and there are no accountability mechanisms to turn this around. In this letter, we put up some ideas on how to devise an institutional framework such that standardization bodies invest in anticipating and preventing harm to people's fundamental rights.
A legal sustainability approach to align the order of rules and actions in the context of digital innovation.
Fosch-Villaronga, E., Drukarch, H., Giraudo, M. (2023). A legal sustainability approach to align the order of rules and actions in the context of digital innovation. In: Sætra, H. (2023) Technology and Sustainable Development. The Promise and Pitfalls of Techno-Solutionism. Routledge, 127-143, available online.
While the pace of digitization and its impacts on society and markets have become an independent topic of research and debate, far less is clear on how the traditional regulatory functions of governments should evolve with these transformative changes. In this article, we explain how technology disrupts the legal ecosystem and how an uncontrolled legal environment may provide carte blanche to techno-solutionism and cause disruptions that affect practices and society. In the face of uncertainty regarding the implications of fundamental rights and liberties at the core of liberal democracies, we outline two possible legal sustainability approaches, weak and strong, respectively. We do so by borrowing from the economic literature on environmental externalities and sustainability paradigms of economic growth. In this frame, we present a three-step process to align the order of rules with that of actions to create better conditions for a smooth and sustainable co-evolution between technological ecosystems and the prevailing institutions. Such a process aims at bridging information asymmetries by generating policy-relevant data, sharing knowledge among stakeholders to understand and make sense of such information, and creating opportunities for those ideas to turn into an “action” in the world of actions. In doing so, we strive for brokering knowledge between economic agents and regulators since only by having a shared common understanding of the state of affairs a shared normative view on the matter can follow.
Calleja, C., Drukarch, H., and Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2022). Harnessing robot experimentation to optimize the regulatory framing of emerging robot technologies. Data & Policy, Cambridge University Press, 1-15.
From exoskeletons to lightweight robotic suits, wearable robots are changing dynamically and rapidly, challenging the timeliness of laws and regulatory standards that were not prepared for robots that would help wheelchair users walk again. In this context, equipping regulators with technical knowledge on technologies could solve information asymmetries among developers and policymakers and avoid the problem of regulatory disconnection. This article introduces pushing robot development for lawmaking (PROPELLING), an financial support to third parties from the Horizon 2020 EUROBENCH project that explores how robot testing facilities could generate policy-relevant knowledge and support optimized regulations for robot technologies. With ISO 13482:2014 as a case study, PROPELLING investigates how robot testbeds could be used as data generators to improve the regulation for lower-limb exoskeletons. Specifically, the article discusses how robot testbeds could help regulators tackle hazards like fear of falling, instability in collisions, or define the safe scenarios for avoiding any adverse consequences generated by abrupt protective stops. The article’s central point is that testbeds offer a promising setting to bring policymakers closer to research and development to make policies more attuned to societal needs. In this way, these approximations can be harnessed to unravel an optimal regulatory framework for emerging technologies, such as robots and artificial intelligence, based on science and evidence.
Drukarch, H., Calleja, C., and Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2023). An iterative regulatory process for robot governance. Data & Policy, Cambridge University Press, 5:e8, 1-22.
There is an increasing gap between the policy cycle’s speed and that of technological and social change. This gap is becoming broader and more prominent in robotics, that is, movable machines that perform tasks either automatically or with a degree of autonomy. This is because current legislation was unprepared for machine learning and autonomous agents. As a result, the law often lags behind and does not adequately frame robot technologies. This state of affairs inevitably increases legal uncertainty. It is unclear what regulatory frameworks developers have to follow to comply, often resulting in technology that does not perform well in the wild, is unsafe, and can exacerbate biases and lead to discrimination. This paper explores these issues and considers the background, key findings, and lessons learned of the LIAISON project, which stands for “Liaising robot development and policymaking,” and aims to ideate an alignment model for robots’ legal appraisal channeling robot policy development from a hybrid top-down/bottom-up perspective to solve this mismatch. As such, LIAISON seeks to uncover to what extent compliance tools could be used as data generators for robot policy purposes to unravel an optimal regulatory framing for existing and emerging robot technologies.
Drukarch, H., Calleja, C., and Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2022). LIAISON: Liaising robot development and policymaking to reduce the complexity in robot legal compliance. In: Pons, J. L. (2022) Interactive Robotics: Legal, Ethical, Social and Economic Aspects. Biosystems & Biorobotics, vol. 30, Springer., 212-219, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-04305-5_37
Calleja, C., Drukarch, H., and Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2022). Towards Evidence-Based Standard-Making for Robot Governance. In: Pons, J. L. (2022) Interactive Robotics: Legal, Ethical, Social and Economic Aspects. Biosystems & Biorobotics, vol. 30, Springer., 220-227, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-04305-5_36.
Concepts, definitions, and considerations for healthcare robot governance
Fosch-Villaronga, E. & Drukarch, H. (2021). On Healthcare Robots. Concepts, Definitions, and considerations for healthcare robot governance. ArXiv pre-print, 1-87, https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.03468.
Although healthcare is a remarkably sensitive domain of application, and systems that exert direct control over the world can cause harm in a way that humans cannot necessarily correct or oversee, it is still unclear whether and how healthcare robots are currently regulated or should be regulated. Existing regulations are primarily unprepared to provide guidance for such a rapidly evolving field and accommodate devices that rely on machine learning and AI. Moreover, the field of healthcare robotics is very rich and extensive, but it is still very much scattered and unclear in terms of definitions, medical and technical classifications, product characteristics, purpose, and intended use. As a result, these devices often navigate between the medical device regulation or other non-medical norms, such as the ISO personal care standard. Before regulating the field of healthcare robots, it is therefore essential to map the major state-of-the-art developments in healthcare robotics, their capabilities and applications, and the challenges we face as a result of their integration within the healthcare environment. This contribution fills in this gap and lack of clarity currently experienced within healthcare robotics and its governance by providing a structured overview of and further elaboration on the main categories now established, their intended purpose, use, and main characteristics. We explicitly focus on surgical, assistive, and service robots to rightfully match the definition of healthcare as the organized provision of medical care to individuals, including efforts to maintain, treat, or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being. We complement these findings with policy recommendations to help policymakers unravel an optimal regulatory framing for healthcare robot technologies.
Setting a research agenda to mitigate overtrust in automation
Aroyo, A. M., de Bruyne, J., Dheu, O., Fosch-Villaronga, E., Gudkov, A., Hoch, H., Jones, S., Lutz, C., Sætra, H., Solberg, M., & Tamò-Larrieux, A. (2021) Overtrusting Robots: Setting a Research Agenda to Mitigate Overtrust in Automation. Paladyn Journal of Behavioral Robotics 12(1), 1-14.
There is increasing attention given to the concept of trustworthiness for artificial intelligence and robotics. However, trust is highly context-dependent, varies among cultures, and requires reflection on others’ trustworthiness, appraising whether there is enough evidence to conclude that these agents deserve to be trusted. Moreover, little research exists on what happens when too much trust is placed in robots and autonomous systems. Conceptual clarity and a shared framework for approaching overtrust are missing. In this contribution, we offer an overview of pressing topics in the context of overtrust and robots and autonomous systems. Our review mobilizes insights solicited from in-depth conversations from a multidisciplinary workshop on the subject of trust in human–robot interaction (HRI), held at a leading robotics conference in 2020. A broad range of participants brought in their expertise, allowing the formulation of a forward-looking research agenda on overtrust and automation biases in robotics and autonomous systems. Key points include the need for multidisciplinary understandings that are situated in an eco-system perspective, the consideration of adjacent concepts such as deception and anthropomorphization, a connection to ongoing legal discussions through the topic of liability, and a socially embedded understanding of overtrust in education and literacy matters. The article integrates diverse literature and provides a ground for common understanding for overtrust in the context of HRI.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. and Heldeweg, M. A., (2018) "Regulation, I Presume?" Said the Robot. Towards an Iterative Regulatory Process for Robot Governance. Computer Law and Security Review, 34(6), 1258-1277
This article envisions an iterative regulatory process for robot governance. In the article, we argue that what lacks in robot governance is actually a backstep mechanism that can coordinate and align robot and regulatory developers. In order to solve that problem, we present a theoretical model that represents a step forward in the coordination and alignment of robot and regulatory development. Our work builds on previous literature, and explores modes of alignment and iteration towards greater closeness in the nexus between research and development (R&D) and regulatory appraisal and channeling of robotics’ development. To illustrate practical challenges and solutions, we explore different examples of (related) types of communication processes between robot developers and regulatory bodies. These examples help illuminate the lack of formalization of the policymaking process, and the loss of time and resources that the waste of knowledge generated for future robot governance instruments implies. We argue that initiatives that fail to formalize the communication process between different actors and that propose the mere creation of coordinating agencies risk being seriously ineffective. We propose an iterative regulatory process for robot governance, which combines the use of an ex ante robot impact assessment for legal/ethical appraisal, and evaluation settings as data generators, and an ex post legislative evaluation instrument that eases the revision, modification and update of the normative instrument. In all, the model breathes the concept of creating dynamic evidence-based policies that can serve as temporary benchmark for future and/or new uses or robot developments. Our contribution seeks to provide a thoughtful proposal that avoids the current mismatch between existing governmental approaches and what is needed for effective ethical/legal oversight, in the hope that this will inform the policy debate and set the scene for further research.
Fosch-Villaronga, E., & Heldeweg, M.A. (2020) “Meet me halfway,” said the robot to the regulation. Linking ex-ante technology impact assessments to legislative ex-post evaluations via shared data repositories for robot governance. In: Pons-Rovira, J.L. (2020) Inclusive Robotics for a Better Society. INBOTS 2018. Biosystems & Biorobotics, vol. 25., Springer, Cham., 113-119.
Current legislation may apply to new developments. Even so, these developments may raise new challenges that call into question the applicability of this legislation. This paper explains what happens at this moment for new robot technologies. We argue that there is no formal communication process between robot developers and regulators from which policies could learn. To bridge this gap, we propose a model that links technology impact assessments to legislative ex-post evaluations via shared data repositories.
Martinetti, A., Chemweno, P., Nizamis, K., & Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2021) Redefining safety in light of human-robot interaction: a critical review of current standards and regulations. Frontiers in Chemical Engineering.
Policymakers need to consider the impacts that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have on humans beyond physical safety. Traditionally, the definition of safety has been interpreted to exclusively apply to risks that have a physical impact on persons' safety, such as, among others, mechanical or chemical risks. However, the current understanding is that the integration of AI in cyber-physical systems such as robots, thus increasing interconnectivity with several devices and cloud services, and influencing the growing human-robot interaction challenges how safety is currently conceptualised rather narrowly. Thus, to address safety comprehensively, AI demands a broader understanding of safety, extending beyond physical interaction, but covering aspects such as cybersecurity, and mental health. Moreover, the expanding use of machine learning techniques will more frequently demand evolving safety mechanisms to safeguard the substantial modifications taking place over time as robots embed more AI features. In this sense, our contribution brings forward the different dimensions of the concept of safety, including interaction (physical and social), psychosocial, cybersecurity, temporal, and societal. These dimensions aim to help policy and standard makers redefine the concept of safety in light of robots and AI's increasing capabilities, including human-robot interactions, cybersecurity, and machine learning.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2015) Creation of a Care Robot Impact Assessment. WASET, International Science Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic and Management Engineering, 9(6), 1817 – 1821.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2019). Robot Impact Assessment. In: Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2019). Healthcare, Robots, & the Law. Regulatin Automation in Personal Care, 39-56.
A roboticist building a robot that interacts with humans may be clueless about what regulations s/he needs to follow, whether the robot behavior needs to be regulated by design or after, or whether s/he is in charge of it. The methodology Robot Impact Assessment (ROBIA) helps robot engineers in the process to identify the legal aspects associated with their technology. A ROBIA involves setting the context, describing the robot, identifying the relevant framework, identify the risks and mitigate them. Following ROBIA, robot engineers may identify relevant safeguards to make robots safe to the whole extent of the meaning of the word.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. and Golia, A. Jr. (2019) Robots, Standards and the Law. Rivalries between private standards and public policymaking for robot governance. Computer Law & Security Review, 35(2), 129-144
This article explains the complex intertwinement between public and private regulators in the case of robot technology. Public policymaking ensures broad multi-stakeholder protected scope, but its abstractness often fails in intelligibility and applicability. Private standards, on the contrary, are more concrete and applicable, but most of the times they are voluntary and reflect industry interests. The ‘better regulation’ approach of the EU may increase the use of evidence to inform policy and lawmaking, and the involvement of different stakeholders. Current hard-lawmaking instruments do not appear to take advantage of the knowledge produced by standard-based regulations, virtually wasting their potential benefits. This fact affects the legal certainty with regards to a fast-paced changing environment like robotics. In this paper, we investigate the challenges of overlapping public/private regulatory initiatives that govern robot technologies in general, and in the concrete of healthcare robot technologies. We wonder until what extent robotics should be governed only by standards. We also reflect on how public policymaking could increase their technical understanding of robot technology to devise an applicable and comprehensive framework for this technology. In this respect, we propose different ways to integrate the technical know-how into policymaking (e.g., collecting the data/knowledge generated from the impact assessments in shared data repositories, and using it for evidence-based policies) and to strengthen the legitimacy of standards.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. and Golia, A. Jr. (2019) The Intricate Relationships between Private Standards and Public Policymaking in the Case of Personal Care Robots. Who Cares More? In: Barattini, P., Vicentini, F., Virk, G. S., & Haidegger, T. (Eds.). (2019). Human-Robot Interaction: Safety, Standardization, and Benchmarking. CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group
A self-guiding guide to conduct research with embodiment technologies responsibly
Aymerich-Franch & Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2020). A self-guiding tool to conduct research with embodiment technologies responsibly. Frontiers in Robotics and AI, Perspective, 7, 22
The extension of the sense of self to the avatar during experiences of avatar embodiment requires thorough ethical and legal consideration, especially in light of potential scenarios involving physical or psychological harm caused to, or by, embodied avatars. We provide researchers and developers working in the field of virtual and robot embodiment technologies with a self-guidance tool based on the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). This tool will help them engage in ethical and responsible research and innovation in the area of embodiment technologies in a way that guarantees all the rights of the embodied users and their interactors, including safety, privacy, autonomy, and dignity.
Aymerich-Franch, L. and Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2019) What we learned from mediated embodiment experiments and why it should matter to policymakers. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, MIT Press Journals, 27:1
When people embody a virtual or a robotic avatar, their sense of self extends to the body of that avatar. We argue that, as a consequence, if the avatar gets harmed, the person embodied in that avatar suffers the harm in the first person. Potential scenarios involving physical or psychological harm caused to avatars gives rise to legal, moral, and policy implications that need to be considered by policymakers. We maintain that the prevailing distinction in law between “property” and “person” categories compromises the legal protection of the embodied users. We advocate for the inclusion of robotic and virtual avatars in a double category, property–person, as the property and the person mingle in one: the avatar. This hybrid category is critical to protecting users of mediated embodiment experiences both from potential physical or psychological harm and property damage.
Sætra, H. S. & Fosch-Villaronga, E. (2021) Research in AI has Implications for Society: How do we Respond? The Balance of Power between Science, Ethics, and Politics. Morals & Machines, 1(1), 62-75, https://doi.org/10.5771/2747-5182-2021-1-62.
Fosch-Villaronga, E. and Millard, C. (2019) Cloud Robotics Law and Regulation. Challenges in the Governance of Complex and Dynamic Cyber-Physical Ecosystems. Robotics and Autonomous Systems 119, 77-91
This paper assesses some of the key legal and regulatory questions arising from the integration of physical robotic systems with cloud-based services, also called “cloud robotics.” The literature on legal and ethical issues in robotics has a strong focus on the robot itself, but largely ignores the background information processing. Conversely, the literature on cloud computing rarely addresses human–machine interactions, which raise distinctive ethical and legal concerns. In this paper, we investigate, from a European legal and regulatory perspective, the growing interdependence and interactions of tangible and virtual elements in cloud robotics environments. We highlight specific problems and challenges in regulating such complex and dynamic ecosystems and explore potential solutions. To illustrate practical challenges, we consider several examples of cloud robotics ecosystems involving multiple parties, various physical devices, and various cloud services. These examples illuminate the complexity of interactions between relevant parties. By identifying pressing legal and regulatory issues in relation to cloud robotics, we hope to inform the policy debate and set the scene for further research.