Europe's growing army of robot workers could be classed as "electronic persons" and their owners liable to paying social security for them if the European Union adopts a draft plan to address the realities of a new industrial revolution.
Robots are being deployed in ever-greater numbers in factories and also taking on tasks such as personal care or surgery, raising fears over unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation.
Their growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy requires rethinking everything from taxation to legal liability, a draft European Parliament motion, dated May 31, suggests.
Some robots are even taking on a human form. Visitors to the world's biggest travel show in March were greeted by a lifelike robot developed by Japan's Toshiba and were helped by another made by France's Aldebaran Robotics.
However, Germany's VDMA, which represents companies such as automation giant Siemens and robot maker Kuka, says the proposals are too complicated and too early.
The draft motion called on the European Commission to consider "that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations".
It also suggested the creation of a register for smart autonomous robots, which would link each one to funds established to cover its legal liabilities.
The report added that robotics and artificial intelligence may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, raising concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems.
The draft motion, drawn up by the European parliament's committee on legal affairs also said organisations should have to declare savings they made in social security contributions by using robotics instead of people, for tax purposes.