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How Should the Law Think About Robots?

Neil Richards and William D. Smart.
Chapter 1 in "Robot Law", Ryan Calo, Michael Froomkin, and Ian Kerr (eds)., pages 3-22, Edward Elgar, 2016.

Today’s robots are leaving the research lab and coming to the consumer market. Yet many existing robots are not designed to interact with humans. Even the Roomba sees a human leg and a table leg as indistinguishable. While research labs are still the primary home for robots, they can provide us with an exciting glimpse of future robot applications in the real world. This chapter provides an overview of the conceptual issues and possible implications surrounding law, robots, and robotics. First, the authors offer a definition of robots as nonbiological autonomous agents: one that requires agency in the physical world, but only requires a subjective notion of agency or "apparent agency." The authors then explore the capabilities of robots, noting what they do today and projecting what robots might be able to do in the future. The authors argue that we should look to the lessons of cyberlaw in developing and examining the metaphors for robots we use to shape the law. One key lesson is that if we get the metaphors wrong for robots, the outcome could be disastrous. The idea that robots are "just like people" – "the Android Fallacy" – should be entirely and outright rejected, according to the authors. Robots are tools, despite the fact that people, including lawmakers, tend to anthropomorphize robots with perceived human characteristics. Misunderstanding a new technology, in this case, anthropomorphizing analogies of robots, can have real, pernicious effects for legislative design and should be avoided.

  author = {Richards, Neil M. and Smart, William D.},
  editor = {Calo, Ryan and Froomkin, A. Michael and Kerr, Ian},
  title = {How Should the Law Think About Robots?},
  booktitle = {Robot Law},
  chapter = {1},
  pages = {3--22},
  publisher = {Edward Elgar},
  year = {2016}