Robot & AI Governance
Serving the European Commission
During Jan-Dec 2020 I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.