Robots: Regulation, Rights, and Remedies

Robots: Regulation, Rights, and Remedies

Migle Laukyte (Faculty of Law, Pompeau Fabra University, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3130-3.ch008


More and more often legal scholars notice that developments in robotics are becoming increasingly relevant from a legal point of view. This chapter critically assesses the current debate in the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI)-based robotics, whose scope should be seen as part of a wider debate that concerns AI. Indeed, what interests legal scholars are those robots that are able to act autonomously and intelligently, that is, robots embedded with AI. The chapter looks at such robots from the twofold perspective: on the one hand, robot as a product (and therefore the chapter refers to consumer protection) and, on the other hand, robot as entity (and therefore it addresses robot rights). The chapter also includes a brief overview of some of the initiatives to regulate AI and robotics interpreting the nuances so as to extract some ideas on national priorities in this regard.
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Developments in robotics are becoming increasingly relevant from a legal point of view,1 and even though there is still no consensus about what falls under the term ‘robot’, we instinctively feel that robotics is going to give rise to many legal nuisances and Gordian knots. This chapter provides an overview of the current legal debate concerning robotics, understood here as those virtual and physical robots that are able to act autonomously and intelligently, that is, robots embedded with artificial intelligence (AI). These AI-based robots represent a paradigmatic change that could mark not only the evolution of legal thought but could also widely impact social arrangements and equilibriums: the change from robot as a thing (product) to robot as an entity (a person in law).

A question immediately arises: why are these, and not other topics being addressed in this work? The author has no doubts that there are many legal and social issues related to AI and robotics – the terms that will be used interchangeably in this chapter unless specified otherwise – and much work has been already done to understand, question, analyze and share them.2 Yet usually these works focus on very specific questions, such as civil liability, contracts or intellectual property (IP) protection. This chapter has a different goal: it aims to provide a more general and panoramic vision of the main legal questions related to AI and robotics.

Only such a general vision can help to reveal the Janus-faced nature of AI, where each position (AI as a product or AI as an entity) challenges the established legal concepts and legal frameworks differently. The overall challenge then is not related to specific questions, but rather to the whole legal system, because what lawyers and legal scholars fail to see is that AI is different from any other technology: it escapes our legal ontologies and shows an out-of-datedness. Consequently, the legal concepts that until so recently were clearly defined and immovable (within certain limits), are now becoming more fluid and shapeless. As imperfect and far from complete the author’s account may be, this chapter attempts to provide a more complete and all-embracing vision of how AI is challenging the law and how legal scholars still have not worked out sufficiently clear and exhaustive answers to these challenges.

The chapter is organized as follows. The first section focuses on robots as things or products, and therefore on problems and challenges that robots might cause to consumers (Hartzog, 2015). As a part of this, robots can affect a wide array of legal and social goods, such as human rights, in particular, the right to privacy, data protection, but also consumer trust, and security. This section argues that robots reveal consumer vulnerability more than any other technologies have done so far, and it seems that legislators have not yet fully understood their impact.

The second section presents a different perspective: having looked at robots as products and their real and potential impact on consumers, the author changes the focus completely and looks at them as entities in their own right and accordingly focuses on the rights of robots. The idea of robot rights is not a new one, but it has been gaining ground, and new paradigms have been introduced, such as the development of computational law applications that could provide legal advice to machines (Kahana, 2018). This section shows that the debate on robot rights is not only taking a clear path leading to straightforward, all-encompassing arguments for or against robot rights, but that there also is a shift underway towards a more nuanced discussion focused on specific rights, such as the previously suggested example of a right to legal advice.

The third section is dedicated to legal and regulatory initiatives that are being undertaken in Europe and elsewhere. The author argues that there are no norms specifically designed for robots, just preliminary work that will be functional for future regulation. This preliminary work, in the forms of strategies and initiatives, varies among countries. Thus, for example, European Union (EU) lawmakers are promoting a human-centric approach (High Level Expert Group, 2019), while Canadian researchers in the Montreal Declaration (University of Montreal, 2017) have advanced a slightly different position, being among the first to admit that human relation with robots could be a relationship to protect. This chapter analyzes EU, United States (US) and Canadian approaches and draws some preliminary conclusions on what these approaches establish as their priorities. The chapter ends with a few closing remarks.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Artificial Intelligence (AI): The creation of programs designed to perform tasks generally performed by humans.

Robot: A programmable machine imbued robots with some sort of autonomy, that is, robots that can act without human intervention and control and could exercise any kind of (human-like) intelligent behavior ( World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, 2017 ).

Computational Law: A branch of legal informatics that aims to codify legal norms and regulations ( Genesereth, 2015 ).

Legal Personhood: Granting a being or entity similar legal rights to those granted to humans.

Human-Centric: Places people at the centre of whatever product, solution, or technique is being designed or planned.

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