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Data security implications and the development of robotics

Data security implications and the development of robotics

Humanity is now on the threshold of an era in which robots, bots, androids and other manifestations of artificial intelligence (AI) seem to be on the verge of launching a new industrial revolution, likely to affect all strata of society, making it essential that legislation should consider all its implications. Robotics, in particular, is a disciplinary field that has as its object the study and creation of robots, and their practical applications in industrial production and scientific and technological research.

Robotics has developed along three main lines: the development of construction technology, the development of reasoning skills, and integration with the operating environment.

The construction technology of robots has evolved thanks to both the materials used (lighter, more robust and, where required, flexible) and the actuators (more powerful, lighter and faster); this evolution allows for much faster and more precise movement than the previous generation robots.

The capacity of reasoning, thanks to the developments of computers (more generally of computer systems and, in particular, of artificial intelligence techniques), has increased by a few orders of magnitude; this evolution allows the execution of complex actions in even very articulated environments, with the joint presence of machines and men.

The introduction of robotics, on a large scale, will inevitably create many problems from both an ethical and legal point of view, since excessively rigid regulations could stifle innovation, but the lack of legal clarity would leave all operators in the dark.

Think, for example, of human bionic systems, i.e. a series of technologies (ranging from bionic prostheses to exoskeletons to body prostheses to brain-computer interfaces), which will restore lost bodily functions and eventually overcome different types of disabilities, the distribution of which, however, poses more general problems with regard to the impact on the notions of human nature, identity, normality, disability, and the corresponding legal effects.

A transparent regulatory environment is seen as a key element for the development of robotics and autonomous market systems, in which products and services can be distributed without problems.

There is a strong fear on the part of many that premature and intrusive legislation may hamper scientific progress and nullify potential benefits or even worse cause economic inefficiencies or otherwise.

At the same time, somehow paradoxically, it is admitted that the lack of a reliable and safe legal environment may equally hamper technological innovation. This difficult situation certainly undermines legal certainty and leads people to act in an ambiguous area where rights and responsibilities cannot be identified in advance.

Undoubtedly, regulatory intervention will at least be necessary to obtain a legal framework that can support constant scientific progress without ever standing in the way of technological development.

Laws and regulations in the robotics sector will also be fundamental to allow an effective development of a competitive market. The European Union’s ambition to promote innovation in the internal market makes robotics a strategic sector to which the European institutions are devoting considerable attention. At the same time, research and industrial production in robotics must grow in line with the complementary objective, which is enshrined in European policy, of establishing itself as an area of freedom, security and justice.

The competing objectives of protecting consumers and more generally end users from harmful effects while promoting innovation must therefore become the legislator’s own. In this respect, the most effective regulatory system must combine several instruments: legal norms, technical norms and standards, codes of conduct and best practices. In this way it will be possible to guarantee certainty, flexibility, precision and also the most correct interpretation in the face of certain doubts.

Beyond ethical problems, the use of robots could also give rise to more problems in terms of security and privacy. Think, for example, of a robot dedicated to monitoring the clinical-medical parameters of an elderly person and their transmission to the hospital or doctor in real time, which will naturally also become relevant from the point of view of privacy protection and must be protected for this purpose.

In this case, the importance of the typical approach of privacy by design already regulated by art. 25 of EU Regulation 2016/679 of the European Parliament and Council of 27 April 2016 is evident.

By virtue of this principle it is necessary that data protection is integrated into the entire life cycle of the technology, from the very first design phase to its final distribution, use and final disposal.

Of course, in the specific field of robotics everything will have to be regulated without compromising the concept of open source intelligence, the global intelligence of all machines stored in the cloud, from which each humanoid will be able to draw the experiences and capabilities he needs.

Cloud computing, therefore, will become a fundamental tool in the field of robotics; it will represent the “memory” of robots, solving one of the most thorny problems in the sector, that of the data storage capacity of a humanoid.

Therefore, the problem of the security of the computer system against potential external attacks that send unauthorised commands to the robot or damage its operating system takes on great importance.

These considerations briefly outline the technical and socio-economic reasons that make the issues of security and responsibility crucial in the legal analysis of robotics.

The concern for the setting of high safety standards and for a clear definition of the rules on the attribution of responsibility depends above all on the characteristics of service robotics, which is destined to generate forms of close man-machine interaction and with this to exponentially multiply the occasions of damage.


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