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Robots and the Law: Introduction
Robots and the Law_book
Humankind’s new tool: who gets the blame when one screws up?
By Tom Green


“Open the pod bay door, HAL.”
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

—2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Humans are tool builders. We’re seemingly hard-wired to fashion objects that do jobs for us or make life better or easier or both. Some of these tools, the ones we call machines, have been absolutely necessary in building and maintaining our civilizations, our modern way of life and the ability to plan for our future.

Robots and the Law_logo_artwork

Things happen
Our relationship with our machines however beneficial and salubrious is many times an uneasy and often contentious one, especially so since the Industrial Revolution. Railroads are wonderful until a locomotive slips its track. After the wreckage is hauled away, the injured and dead as well, another of humankind’s great inventions takes over: law.

The rules we all use to interact with each other and the system by which we can seek to be made whole when we are wronged, intervene to try to understand what took place and to assess liability, arrive at a judgment, and then determine punishment and reward, if any.

To help, not harm
Humankind is now fast about creating what may well be its greatest tool: the robot. And, consequently, about to enter its greatest test between its laws and its machines.

Popular media and professional investigation have already begun the inquiry, the posing of concerns and intimations at solutions. News events involving humans and robots are cropping up seemingly everywhere and increasing in frequency.

We at Robotics Business Review recognize the permanence and upward spiral of inquiry over robots and the law. We feel that the fundamental issues involved and their impacts on every aspect of society are critical and necessitate permanent coverage in our pages.

We do not know which way the interaction between humans and robots will take us, but we intend to follow the stories and to report on them in a special column that we call: Robots and the Law.

Lead correspondent and at-large editor for the series is Emmet Cole, who is a regular and valued contributor to Robotics Business Review. Emmet has put together four probing articles to kick off the series.

Here’s what Emmet has to say about them:

Emmet Cole: As robots increase in number, capability, and intelligence, ethical and legal issues are starting to emerge.

From assigning liability when a robot malfunctions to personal privacy issues arising from the use of domestic care robots, our existing regulatory and legal frameworks are being stretched by emerging robot technologies.

And as robots are increasingly found in all sorts of environments from domestic healthcare settings to the battlefield, ethical and legal problems surrounding human-robot interaction are set to become very complicated indeed.

Researchers from a variety of fields, including engineering, philosophy and the law have been thinking about these issues for decades, but legislators and policy makers are only now just starting to catch up.

Governments are beginning to think about and act upon developing ethical guidelines, regulations, and legislative mechanisms that will guide the development of commercial robotics over the coming decade and beyond.

Understanding these issues is crucial for commercial robotics and academic researchers. How can commercial robotics’ companies manage potential legal liabilities before bringing a product to market?

How can insurance companies determine the risks posed by domestic care robots without a regulatory or legal framework to work from? Will some types of robotics research and technology be prohibited by law?

Upcoming topics Robots and the Law

Stay ahead of this exciting field
Join us beginning in September for Robots and the Law, a new column that will explore the legal and ethical issues surrounding robotics and how they could impact on your bottom line.

Robots and the Law will launch with a series of four articles introducing the key legal and ethical problems facing commercial robotics companies.

We’ll take a look at the state of robot law globally, drawing on expert insight from Europe, Asia, and the United States.

We’ll examine military robotics and the arguments for and against using autonomous weapons in the battlefield.

We’ll talk with cyborgs about how cyborgism is changing what it means to be human and what the legal consequences of any new definition of ‘human’ might include.

And we will tackle the concept of an ethical robot, delving into the algorithms that some roboticists believe could enable robots to think and act in an ethical manner.

As Robots and the Law develops, we will look at how ethical concerns could affect government policy on robotics in different regions, investigate the problems insurers face when it comes to determining liability, get expert insight on some historic legal cases involving robots.

How will ethical and legal issues surrounding robots affect your research and your bottom line?

Get an in-depth look at the course of action that each of these five world leaders is taking:

  1. 5.China : The lack of interest in robot-related legislation and regulation in China is a problem that must be urgently addressed.
  2. 4.United States: The United States is one of the few countries to enact robot-specific laws and regulations.
  3. 3.European Union: RoboLaw is a $1.9 million European Commission-funded project designed to prepare the way for the creation of legal and ethical guidelines.
  4. 2.South Korea: The Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) is the official body responsible for overseeing legislation and regulation regarding robotics.
  5. 1.Japan: Ethical and emotional barriers against new robots are not high in Japan, but people demand a high level of safety for those new technologies.

See related: Robot Law: A Global Perspective: First of a four-part series on how world regulators are bringing legislative and regulatory guidance to the robotics industry

Is there a topic you would like to see covered in Robots and the Law? Would you like to join the chorus with a guest editorial? We’ll give you a soap box of your own. Just email us: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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About the author

Emmet Cole has been writing about robots since 2006. Formerly Wired UK's robotics expert, Emmet's bylines include Wired News, The Economist, BBC Future, and Robotics Trends. He is particularly interested in commercialization of research and in the ethical, legal, and regulatory implications of emerging robotic and cyborg technology. Twitter: @emmetcole

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