It’s starting. Legal scholarship is beginning to address how current and near-term robotic technology presents novel challenges for existing laws. I get emails about once a month asking me to point a student toward sources and other leads. I just noticed (thanks to Concurring Opinions) that a Note from the current issue of Iowa Law Review addresses the question point blank. It argues that recent developments in cybernetics may eventually indicate a need to reform the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here’s an excerpt:
In the near future, advances in neuroscience and robotics will change the way our society views the human body by further reinforcing the concept of the body as a machine with interchangeable, replaceable, and upgradeable parts. This Note focuses on cybernetic technologies—mechanical, electronic devices that link directly with the human nervous system. As these cybernetic technologies become more advanced, they will approach and then surpass ordinary human function, raising the prospect of enhancing human capabilities well beyond the current baseline standard. This increase in the breadth and depth of the ability spectrum, spurred by the rising power and popularity of cybernetic-enhancement technologies, may lead society to view the healthy, yet unenhanced, human as “disabled.”
I’m not sure I agree with the strong version of the author’s claim. I believe our natural bodies will prove the default for the foreseeable future. Many of us use devices in our daily life capable of thousands of calculations per second, but we would not call a diner remedial for doing the tip in her head. There may be something to the notion, however, that advances in cybernetics will vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision in Sutton v. United Air Lines, holding that courts should take into account available mitigation when assessing disability. This decision was apparently overruled by statute. Judge for yourself: you can download Collin Bockman’s full work by clicking here (PDF).