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AI and robotics to test law and policy, warns law professor

'Robotics represents an idea whose time has come,' says Ryan Calo

14 July 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

It is imperative that the law adapts to developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), a law professor has said.

Ryan Calo believes that robotics will be the next transformative technology to test law and policy.

"Technology has not stood still. The same private institutions that developed the Internet, from the armed forces to search engines, have initiated a significant shift toward robotics and artificial intelligence," he said in a research paper.

The assistant professor of law at University of Washington has suggested that robotics and AI have essentially different qualities than the law has yet faced.

"Robotics has a different set of essential qualities than the Internet, which animate a new set of legal puzzles," he warned.

"Courts that struggled for the proper metaphor to apply to the Internet will struggle anew with robotics."

Continued Calo: "Robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with the capacity to do physical harm; robotic systems accomplish tasks in ways that cannot be anticipated in advance; and robots increasingly blur the line between person and instrument.

"Robotics will prove 'exceptional' in the sense of occasioning systematic changes to law, institutions, and the legal academy. But we will not be writing on a clean slate: Many of the core insights and methods of cyberlaw will prove crucial in integrating robotics, and perhaps whatever technology follows."

Calo had previously called for the creation of a federal robotics commission.

"I join a chorus of voices, from Bill Gates to the White House, to assume that robotics represents an idea whose time has come. The qualities, and the experiences they generate, occasion a distinct catalogue of legal and policy issues that sometimes do, and sometimes do not, echo the central questions of contemporary cyberlaw," he said.

"Cyberlaw will have to engage, to a far greater degree, with the prospect of data causing physical harm, and to the line between speech and action. Rather than think of how code controls people, cyberlaw will think of what people can do to control code."

Commented Chrissie Lightfoot, author of Tomorrow's Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw: "We need to address the positive and negative effects of AI and robots in society and the legal world. Advances in AI will inevitably affect legal jobs, the legal role and the effectiveness of the rule of law and the justice system.

"A whole new body of law and regulation is needed to develop and manage the implications of advances in AI and robotics, and law firms will need dedicated practice groups to tackle these and other issues for their clients," she said in her Managing Partner article Robot law: The future of AI in the legal sector.

Calo's research paper 'Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw' is published in the June 2015 issue of California Law Review.




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