Who Is Responsible for Robots of the Future?

November 5, 2015

11:18 am

We’ve all seen the headlines “Will your job be done by a robot?” It has been predicted in many great works of literature and blockbuster movies that the rise of the machines would mean they inherit the earth and takeover the human race; perhaps that’s a little dramatic. There are various reports discussing the matter; one from Deloitte would have us believe that the takeover is perhaps closer than we’re comfortable with.

It therefore begs the question, who is responsible when things go wrong: the vehicle manufacturer, developers, surgeons or people operating robots, or the software engineers?

It is something that has been debated by the BBC, particularly looking at the healthcare and medical sector.

“What will be the legal implications of the use of robotics in healthcare – the introduction of care-bots that not only monitor patients’ medical care, but carry meals, crack jokes and remind patients to take medication? Who will be sued for negligence if the care-bot malfunctions – the NHS, the doctor who delegated responsibility to the machine, the manufacturer of the machine or the software company?”

We all take technology for granted, who can remember the days before their smartphone or sat nav, which perhaps frighteningly wasn’t that long ago. However, it seems nobody has really given any thought and consideration to the legal implications if things go wrong.

The reality is that robots have been used in some sectors, manufacturing for instances for literally decades, however you don’t need to look far to see where personal injury issues and indeed death have been caused by the machines, particularly the reported death of a worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany earlier this year. The law certainly provides remedies for those people who have suffered either physical or financial harm, the internet is awash with claims calculators to work out how much compensation you are entitled to if you fall victim to harm at someone else’s hands or indeed the hands of a robot.

Companies, organizations and people are all subject to responsibilities and rights, that means people or businesses who design, develop, build and sell robots or artificially intelligent machines have some legal responsibility for their product. The question on everyone’s lips is: What about the robots themselves? Do they have any legal responsibility for their “actions”?

Certainly for the time being, a robot is seen as a product and therefore subject to product liability claims rather than personal claims against the machine. Much like when a dog bites you, the liability sits with the owner, not the dog. However, as robot technology and artificial intelligence continues to develop with the need for direct human control becoming less and less, the question of fault, risk and legal remedies will be discussed and evolve more and more, watch this space!

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Michelle Hughes is a Digital Consultant working with SMEs to increase their digital footprint. Further details on her website: Digital Dinosaur

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