Robots and the law: what's after cyberlaw?

Ryan Calo, the organizer of the annual Stanford conference on Robots and the Law has written a new paper called Robotics and the New Cyberlaw , examining the new legal challenges posed by the presence of robots in our public spaces, homes and workplaces, as distinct from the legal challenges of computers and the Internet.

I'm not entirely convinced that I believe that there is such a thing as a robot, as distinct from "a computer in a special case" or "a specialized peripheral for a computer." At least inasmuch as mandating that a robot must (or must not) do certain things is a subset of the problem of mandating that computers must (or must not) run certain programs.

It seems to me that a lot of the areas where Calo identifies problems with "cyberlaw" as it applies to robots are actually just problems with cyberlaw, period. Cyberlaw isn't very good law, by and large, having been crafted by self-interested industry lobbyists and enacted on the basis of fearmongering and grandstanding, so it's not very surprising that it isn't very good at solving robot problems.

But the paper is a fascinating one, nevertheless.

Update: The organizer of Robots and the Law is Michael Froomkin; Ryan Calo is the person who sent it in to Boing Boing. The conference isn't held at Stanford every year; next year it will be in Miami. Sorry for the confusion!

Two decades of analysis have produced a rich set of insights as to how the law should apply to the Internet’s peculiar characteristics. But, in the meantime, technology has not stood still. The same public and private institutions that developed the Internet, from the armed forces to search engines, have initiated a significant shift toward robotics and artificial intelligence.

This article is the first to examine what the introduction of a new, equally transformative technology means for cyberlaw (and law in general). Robotics has a different set of essential qualities than the Internet and, accordingly, will raise distinct issues of law and policy. 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.

Cyberlaw can and should evolve to meet these challenges. Cyberlaw is interested, for instance, in how people are hardwired to think of going online as entering a “place,” and in the ways software constrains human behavior. The new cyberlaw will consider how we are hardwired to think of anthropomorphic machines as though they were social, and ponder the ways institutions and jurists can manage the behavior of software. Ultimately the methods and norms of cyberlaw — particularly its commitments to interdisciplinary pragmatism — will prove crucial in integrating robotics, and perhaps whatever technology follows.

Robotics and the New Cyberlaw [Ryan Calo/SSRN]

(Thanks, Ryan!)