Can Your Lawyer Sue a Robot?


So, you sneeze driving through the village where you live. In that moment, you have no control over your car and cannot sense what going on around you. And suppose you drift into a parallel lane and collide with another vehicle. You’re at fault and you might get sued. Hopefully, your insurance is sufficient to cover the damages and losses.


Now, imagine the same thing happens while the car is driving itself. Whether you sneeze or not is irrelevant. It’s artificial intelligence (AI) that’s driving the car. It’s possible the sensors that provide input received two conflicting data points: the car in the lane next to you and a cat running across the street, for example. The AI decides to swerve into the other car rather than kill the cat.


So, who does the other driver sue? You or the manufacturer of your self-driving car?


A smart lawyer would go after the deeper pockets – the manufacturer. The legal view of product liability is certain to be tested by cases such as these. Courts will have to assess what liability to impose for accidents involving the various types of automated vehicles available today, as well as those soon to be released.


The law is AWOL on other matters relating to AI as well. The Guardian reports on an exhibition intended to expose some of the challenges. A shopping bot was used to purchase illegal items like ecstasy pills, counterfeit goods and a set of master keys issued to a fire brigade. It’s not clear whether the bot was programmed to look for illegal items or just to shop. Should the programmer who designed the bot be prosecuted? Or should prosecutors focus on just the bot? And, how do you arrest a bot anyway?


For you and me, the more meaningful impact of shopping bots might be those designed to buy up the most popular holiday gift items and then offer them for sale at a profit. Legal? Yes. But should it be?


AI technologies have also been at issue in patent cases. And the Copyright Office has decreed that “will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” This decree may be challenged by a variety of inventors wishing to copyright works of art created by AI, such as the output designed to imitate the style of Rembrandt.


And what about AI that makes medical decisions about your treatment or devices designed to improve the steadiness of a surgeon’s hand. Can a malpractice suit be brought against the device’s manufacturer, or a treatment protocol designed by AI?


It all suggests that maybe we should wait a little longer before we ask a robot for help.


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