Estonia’s Economy Ministry Presses Special Legal Status for Robots

robotic science
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The birthplace of Skype is in the midst of addressing the unique legal ramifications of automated citizenry.

The Republic of Estonia houses NATO’s cyber-defense headquarters and is the birthplace of popular VOIP software Skype. It is a country at the forefront of our current technological age, and purportedly the first that would continue to function even without any physical territory. The Baltic nation already runs on a paperless government, and features online voting for all of its 1.3 million citizens. Now it is exploring another topic, potential legal status for robot citizens.

It is, perhaps, appropriate that they are among the first to address the increasingly complex subject of robot rights and responsibilities. After the Estonian parliament introduced driverless delivery services to their streets — alongside mandatory liability insurance — the diminutive nation is moving on to a greater concern.

Estonia’s Economy Ministry is seeking a special “robot-agent” legal status for automatons, falling somewhere in the gray area between human and possession. Government IT strategist Siim Sikkut sees the merit of granting robots the same legal weight as humans, but is aware of the long road ahead. Still, he is eager to move forward, hoping to “seize this opportunity as a government” to become “one of the trail blazers.”

That does not, however, mean that it will be an easy task. The world at large is growing increasingly wary of the robot revolution. According to a recent study, more than 70 percent of surveyed Americans fear this rise in automation. In response, Sikkut observed:

We need to get plenty of myths and stereotypes out of the way early on, like that robots are taking over everything or that we’re going too far with computerization. Of course, these questions need to be addressed with all new technologies.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.