The benefits of robotics far outweigh the risks

If the EU is to succeed in the field of robotics, it must ensure it has a functioning single market, writes Dita Charanzová.

Dita Charanzová Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Dita Charanzová

Dita Charanzová (CZ, RE) is a Vice-President of the European Parliament and a member of the delegation for relations with the United States

22 Nov 2016

If you were hoping for an exciting sci-fi read on robots, I am warning you now that this article may not live up to your expectations. As legislators, we need to keep our vision closer to the ground.

The reason for this is that robots, robotic systems and technologies are already transforming our industry and society, and I believe, for the better. This transformation is happening now and should not be feared.

The benefits far outweigh any risks. Yes, industrial transformation will happen, but this is needed if we wish to keep industry in Europe. We must embrace industry 4.0 and the wider world of robotics. Being Luddites does not help anyone.


But, if we are to be succeed in this field, I firmly believe that the rules of the single market must be fully applied. The first of these must be mutual recognition.

Today, robotic systems are being used safely and efficiently in a number of member states, especially in the car industry.

Manufacturers of robotic systems and transnational companies who own them, however, are finding that when they sell or move units to another member state, they have to undergo whole new type-approval-like tests and other certifications to be given permission to use these machines. This is not acceptable in a single market.

The second must be enhanced work on harmonised standardisation for robotics. Common standards will not only solve the problem of mutual recognition, but also ensure that Europe has a say in where this technology is going.

Third (for the moment at least), robotic systems are products and tools and should be treated as such. This means they must be subject to all the current rules on product safety and market surveillance.

Now, dear reader, you have made it this far, so maybe I can give you something more interesting to think about. Think about the fact that each time you shop online, you are basically working with a robot. The closest thing we have today to Artificial Intelligence, outside of a lab, is shopping algorithms.

These algorithms are creating dynamic pricing by which you see the ‘right’ price for you based on your data fingerprint. Not only that, but the goods you see on the page in the first place change based on internal data available to the company and your personal data.

Everything from your IP address, browser history, cookies, user agent (iPhone as opposed to computer), and purchases made from the same IP address feeds into the algorithm so you see what the AI thinks you want to see, for better or worse.

This has led to a sometimes frustrating ‘cat and mouse’ game between retailers and consumers, especially when the algorithm gets it wrong. Consumers are starting to have to think about and change their data to get the computer to do what they really want, instead of trying to sell them the same toaster over and over again at €29.99.

So my answer is not to fear the robots, they are already here. My answer is to start to think like the robots and to regulate the system to make sure they think like us and respect us.

Read the most recent articles written by Dita Charanzová - An open EU and close collaboration with the US are the keys to digital sovereignty