Monday, November 23, 2009

Stanford Law scholars explore legal challenges of personal robotics

We all love Asimo, but what if he malfunctions and decides to destroy someone's property? Further, "who will be to blame if a robot-controlled weapon kills a civilian? Who can be sued if one of those new cars takes an unexpected turn into a crowd of pedestrians? And who is liable if the robot you programmed to bathe your elderly mother drowns her in the tub?" An article from the Stanford University news wire discusses efforts taken by legal technology scholars at Stanford Law School who have sought to answer these questions on the scope of legal challenges in the field of robotics:
"I worry that in the absence of some good, up-front thought about the question of liability, we'll have some high-profile cases that will turn the public against robots or chill innovation and make it less likely for engineers to go into the field and less likely for capital to flow in the area," said M. Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at the Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

And the consequence of ignoring the issue, according to Calo, is that "[t]he United States will fall behind other countries – like Japan and South Korea – that are also at the forefront of personal robot technology, a field that . . . expect[ed] to exceed $5 billion in annual sales by 2015."

Calo and his Stanford colleagues are also considering liability protections that can be put in place to protect innovation in this lucrative field. This is complicated, however, as "the issues go beyond claims of personal injury and property damage." As the article notes:

"We're going to need to think about how to immunize manufacturers from lawsuits in appropriate circumstances," Calo said, adding that defense contractors are usually shielded from liability when the robots and machines they make for the military accidentally injure a soldier. . . ."If we don't do that, we're going to move too slowly in development[.]" . . . When something goes wrong, people are going to go after the deep pockets of the manufacturer."

Check out the full article.


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