Autonomous decisions of machines affect the social order of humans. How do we prepare for this?

AD – 10/2018

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a part of computer science that attempts to replicate human thinking and cognition in order to do problem solving that requires intelligence. Machines, such as robots, analyse their environment by themselves and draw conclusions that can lead to autonomous decisions. As is so often the case in the course of history, humans can use tools for good, but also for evil. Will humans have to follow the orders of machines and what does this mean for working conditions, safety and health in the workplace and product liability? 

Communication from the European Commission

In its Communication ‘Artificial Intelligence for Europe’ of 25 April 2018 (COM/2018/237) and the associated Staff Working Document (SWD/137), the EU Commission raises many ethical and socio-economic questions. It also describes current EU activities in the field of AI, particularly in the area of research funding, and presents examples of projects. The Communication sets out a European AI initiative with the following objectives: 

  • boost the EU’s technological and industrial capacity as well as the uptake of AI across the economy in both the private and public sectors, including better access to data.  


  • prepare for socio-economic changes resulting from AI by encouraging the modernisation of education and training systems, promoting talent, anticipating and supporting changes in the labour market, and adapting social protection systems.  


  • ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework, based on the values of the Union and in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This will be done through guidelines on existing product liability legislation, a detailed analysis of emerging challenges and cooperation with various stakeholders via a European AI Alliance to develop ethical guidelines for AI. 

AI can significantly improve public services and help achieve the objectives of the Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment (Tallinn Declaration). For example, the Commission will explore ways to use AI to analyse large amounts of data and check how single market legislation is applied.  

EESC opinion

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted its Opinion INT/845, prepared by rapporteur Franka Salis-Madinier (Workers GR II/France), in a plenary session on 19 September 2018.  

The EESC highlights the potential of AI and its applications, particularly in the areas of healthcare, transport and energy security, combating climate change and anticipating cyber security threats. The European Union, governments and civil society organisations have an important role to play in making full use of the potential benefits of AI, particularly for persons with disabilities or reduced mobility, the elderly and the chronically ill. 

However, the EU lacks data on the digital economy and the social transformation it triggers. The EESC recommends improving statistical tools and research, particularly on AI, the use of industrial and service robots, the Internet of Things and new business models (platform economy, new forms of employment and work). 

The EESC calls on the European Commission to promote and support studies conducted by European sector-specific social dialogue committees on the sector-specific impact of AI and robotics, including the digitalisation of the economy in general.  

It can be assumed that AI and robotics will displace and change jobs; some jobs will disappear while others will be created. Whatever the case may be, the EU must guarantee access to social protection for all workers, employees, self-employed persons or bogus self-employed persons, in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights. 

The EESC calls for the principle of legal liability to be clarified. Risks to health and safety resulting from the interaction between humans and machines must be tackled with a more ambitious approach under the Product Liability Directive. 

What happens next at European level?

Based on the approach outlined in the Commission’s Communication and the cooperation declaration signed by 24 Member States, the Commission will work with the Member States on a coordinated plan on AI. This will take place within the framework of the European platform of national initiatives to digitise industry and will be agreed by the end of 2018. 


Its main objectives will be to maximise the impact of investment at EU and national level, to promote synergies and cooperation across the EU, to exchange good practices and to jointly determine how to proceed to ensure that the EU remains competitive globally. 

German Bundestag's Study Commission

On September 27, 2018, the German Bundestag’s Study Commission on ‘Artificial Intelligence – Social Responsibility and Economic, Social and Ecological Potential’ was constituted. The Commission, which consists equally of members of the German Bundestag and external experts, will investigate the future influence of AI on our lives, our way of living together, the German economy and the future world of work. The opportunities and challenges of AI for society, the government and the economy will be discussed, as will a range of technical, legal and ethical issues. 

The role of the Study Commission is to identify and describe the need for policy-based action at national, European and international level on the basis of its findings in order to make the most of economic and social opportunities provided by AI and to minimise its risks. 

Application research

The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) provides information on its website about application research, including areas such as ‘Health & Medicine’ and "Assisted Living".