Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots

The threat to humans from robots is no longer the stuff of science-fiction according to a Swiss lawyer who has proposed an international treaty to protect us – and the robots – from harm.

Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots
File photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

On Wednesday Sébastien Fanti, a lawyer from the canton of Valais, presented the first international treaty on the rights of robots at a conference in Shanghai, reported daily Le Matin.

The Lexing conference brought together lawyers from all over the world to discuss the legal implications of robotics and related areas.

According to Fanti, the law is falling behind technology, which could have serious consequences for the use of robots in daily life, such as driverless cars.

“If the algorithm must choose between braking and killing the passenger who is isn’t wearing a seatbelt or running over the pedestrian on the crossing, what will it do?,” Fanti told the paper.

Switzerland is at the forefront of the driverless vehicle revolution, with the city of Sion in the Valais being one of the first towns in the world to pilot driverless buses on the streets.

As well as protecting us from machines, the treaty would apply in reverse, too.

Fanti, who owns a robot himself and has observed people's reactions to it, pointed out that many people don’t consider certain robots as machines or objects “because they have too much autonomy”.

As such, we must learn to live together and put laws in place to protect both human and robot, warned Fanti.

“In ten years I think there will be some abuse towards robots. We must have laws, otherwise it will be a real shambles,” he said.

Fanti’s published text outlines the challenges that robots present and compares the current varying responses of 17 countries, including Switzerland.

An international treaty on the subject is necessary  to “standardize the rules at international level because the robots could be made in China but used in the entire world,” he told Le Matin.

“Robots are the future and they will be everywhere in our daily life. If we don’t act, if we don’t put laws in place, there will be deaths.”

Earlier this year experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos said robots were being developed that could correct children’s homework, sort the laundry and help those needing care in the home.

But they also warned about the dangers of developing “killer robots”, meaning robotic weapons with artificial intelligence that could be used in warfare.

In 2015 around 1,000 scientists said in an open letter than the development of autonomous weapons – as opposed to drones controlled by humans – could be possible within years, and called for a ban on offensive weapons that are beyond meaningful human control.

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Thirteen in court over death threats to French teenager after her social media tirades against Islam

Thirteen people go on trial in Paris on Thursday on charges of online harassment and in some cases death threats against a teenage girl who posted social media tirades against Islam, which saw her placed under police protection and forced to change schools.

Thirteen in court over death threats to French teenager after her social media tirades against Islam
Mila's lawyer Richard Malka has been involved in several high-profile freedom of expression trials, including the Charlie Hebdo trials. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

The  ‘Affaire Mila’ sparked outrage and renewed calls to uphold free-speech rights after the 16-year-old was subjected to a torrent of abuse on social media after her expletive-laden videos went viral last year.

“The Koran is filled with nothing but hate, Islam is a shitty religion,” Mila said in the first post on Instagram in January 2020.

READ ALSO What is the Affaire Mila and why is it causing outrage?

A second one in November, this time on TikTok, came after the jihadist killing of high school teacher Samuel Paty over his showing of controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohamed to students.

The reactions were swift and virulent.

“You deserve to have your throat cut,” read one, while another warned “I’m going to do you like Samuel Paty”.

Mila had to be placed under police protection along with her family in Villefontaine, a town outside Lyon in southeast France, and was forced to change schools.

Even President Emmanuel Macron came to her defence, saying that “the law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.”

Investigators eventually identified thirteen people from several French regions aged 18 to 30, and charged them with online harassment, with some also accused of threatening death or other criminal acts.

“This is a trial against the digital terror that unleashes sexist, homophobic and intolerant mobs against a teenager,” Mila’s lawyer Richard Malka told AFP ahead of the trial, which opens on Thursday afternoon.

“This digital lynching must be punished,” he said.

But defence lawyers have argued that the 13 on trial are unfairly taking the rap as scapegoats for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms.

“My client is totally overwhelmed by this affair,” said Gerard Chemla, a lawyer for one of the accused. “He had a fairly stupid instant reaction, the type that happens every day on Twitter.”

The accused face up to two years in prison and fines of €30,000 for online harassment.

A conviction of death threats carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison – two people previously convicted of death threats against Mila have received prison terms.

Mila, now 18, is to publish a book this month recounting her experience, titled “I’m paying the price for your freedom.”