Experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are calling for clearly defined answers to questions surrounding robots in the workplace amid news that AI-driven robots will be taking on an estimated 50% of workplace functions come 2025.

The concern is a legitimate one as many companies already employ robots in a host of positions from waiters to police officers. Considering that there is documented hostility against these robots, with reports about delivery bots being overturned or police robots being kicked by angry humans, it is a natural assumption that humans might also take out their frustrations on robots in the workplace.

As such, experts warn that in time, these robots could one day retaliate, which begs the question, “should robots be held responsible for retaliating or should a robot’s programmer be held responsible?” This is just one of several questions plaguing robotics experts.

According to the World Economic Forum, "if managed wisely, [machine integration] could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization."

Currently, machines do not have any protected legal rights. However, with each day, robots think and act more like humans, adding to the mounting concern about an automated workplace.

Consequently, a number of concerns need to be addressed before the automated coworkers gain a stronger foothold in the workplace. Among the questions experts claim need answering are:

  • Is it possible for a robot to be programmed to be racist?
  • Is a robot capable of sexually harassing co-workers (both human and other robots)?
  • Will humans discriminate against their robot coworkers?
  • Will violence and discrimination against robots in the workplace be tolerated?
  • Will robots receive compensation for their work?
  • Are robots capable of discriminating against other robots?
  • Will robots receive union protections or health and vacation benefits?
  • Who is responsible if a robot harms a customer or coworker?
  • If a robot invents or improves upon a product or service in the workplace, will it own the intellectual property of that invention or improvement?

As robots are expected to take on more substantial roles in the future workplace beyond manufacturing and customer service, experts are calling for new labor and employment laws to answer such questions.

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