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Robotics and the Law
Robotics and the Law

Does Intelligence Matter? – Legal Ramifications of Intelligent Systems

Doctoral research plan. Please feel free to comment!

1)                         Introduction

“Michigan held off Iowa for a 7-5 win on Saturday. The Hawkeyes (16-21) were unable to overcome a four-run sixth inning deficit. The Hawkeyes clawed back in the eighth inning, putting up one run.” This piece of sports news was generated by an intelligent system. It was written by Narrative Science’s computers in the United States. It was not created, nor edited by a human, which means that it is completely computer generated. This particular text is likely not protected by copyright, as it is not sufficiently original and creative. However, when the software evolves and becomes able to create writings that fulfill the prerequisites for copyright protection, the question of authorship becomes relevant. As lawyers, we will then face the question of how to approach this issue under the copyright laws. Another example: Google’s intelligent car was involved in an accident in August 2011. This time, a human was responsible for the accident, but what if the autonomous vehicle had been considered responsible? How would we fit the case within the legal regime governing legal liability? Further, what if an intruder breaks into the video camera of a robot and spies on children in their bedroom? How would this problem be approached from the perspective of the privacy laws?

Over the past 60 years, information technology has become an integral part of our everyday life. The number of processors contained in transistors has doubled every two years in accordance with Moore’s Law, and it is expected that this trend will continue well into the future. Computers and other technical equipment have become networked, thus increasing the overall technical capacity. As the next step in this process, machines are becoming more and more intelligent. For example, Bill Gates, the leading figure of computer revolution, predicts that robotics is the next revolutionary technology. According to him, every household will have at least one robot. Gates parallels the current development phase of robotics with that in which the computer industry was in the mid 1970’s.

The properties involved in the operations of robots are usually called artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence can be defined in several ways. According to John McCarthy, artificial intelligence means the science and engineering skills related to the development of intelligent machines. Intelligence in turn refers to the ability to achieve goals. In a recent bill on autonomous vehicles adopted by the state of Nevada in the US, artificial intelligence is defined as the use of intelligence by computers and similar devices, allowing the machines to mimic and reproduce human behavior.

Legally, artificial intelligence can be approached from at least two different angles. First, one can explore how applications of artificial intelligence are used in the legal decision-making. Second, one can examine what challenges artificial intelligence poses to jurisprudence. My research will focus on the latter set of questions. I will study artificial intelligence systems in light of the current system of norms. This new technology raises new legal issues that can be partially solved by means of traditional jurisprudence. However, there will also be problems and challenges to which the current system offers little sustainable solutions.

An intelligent system can be, for example, an intelligent agent or robot. An intelligent agent is a computer program that contains artificial intelligence. Intelligent agents can modify their own code and learn from their mistakes. In accordance with Peter Singer’s classic definition, robots are made up of three parts. These include sensors, processors, or artificial intelligence, and actuators. Sensors monitor the environment and detect changes in it. Processors, or artificial intelligence, decide how to respond to these changes, and actuators reflect the decisions made by processors in their functioning, creating changes in the world around the robot. According to Maja Mataric’s much used definition, a robot is an autonomous system, which exists in the physical world, discovers its environment, and can act in its environment in order to achieve particular goals.

The intelligence of machines can be divided into three classes. First, the agent can be autonomously intelligent. In this case, a machine agent implements intelligent functions independently, without a need for human intervention. Secondly, the machine can augment human intelligence, acting in close interplay with a human. In this case intelligence is both borrowed from the human and created from human-robot interaction. Thirdly, intelligence can be analogous to swarm intelligence, i.e., multiple robots can elicit complex and intelligent behavior when interacting with each other, even if any one of the robots could be safely considered “stupid” upon individual examination.

2)                         Objectives and Rationale

I explore the development of intelligent systems and the feasibility of the legal framework, in particular in the consumer environment. I look into copyright, legal liability and privacy issues in a problem-oriented manner. I look for the criteria by which liability issues should be resolved, and I search for points of reference, combining copyright, privacy and tort-based judicial review. My research will focus, for example, on intelligent agents that create news, music, and literary works. I will also examine household robots, such as Personal Robot 2 “PR2″ developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley, a robot that knows how to fold the laundry and how to pick up goods from the refrigerator.

I will consider regulation in Finland, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the US. The United Kingdom and the US have been chosen for review because the current information technology laws are largely based on practices evolved in these two countries.

My research problems are, in particular, the following: Who is responsible for the damages caused by intelligent systems, and who holds the copyright to works created by artificial intelligence? The actors under review are the producers of the intelligent machines, the programmers of the software run on such machines, the users of the machines, their owners and the intelligent systems themselves. My purpose is to outline the various legal doctrines from among which the legislator can choose the policy to pursue de lege ferenda. My goal is for this thesis to contribute to technological development process, and I find that the legal aspects of robotics should be taken into account in the development of services and products.

In the final section of the thesis I will analyze how the intellectual property, tort and privacy laws have responded to the development of technologies. I will also examine how these laws now seem to apply to technologies involving artificial intelligence and what the current legal regime reveals about the relationship between technological and social developments. I will start by examining how copyright once was applied to the development of photography, and by comparing this to how intellectual property now regulates intelligent systems. Then I will examine public limited companies and the manner in which legal liability related to software was formed, and compare this to legal liability related to robots.  I will also analyze intelligent systems and privacy laws, and this is compared to the way by which the privacy policy has responded to the RFID technology, for example

Finally, I will consider whether the issues related to robots are so different from those present in other fields of technology that they require their own approach, or whether robots can be examined within the general conceptual systems of various areas of law as they currently exist. In other words, the research question is how to respond to the challenges of new technologies. Can the new policy questions be solved by the traditional means of legal interpretation, or is a new kind of approach required?

3)                         Methods

This is a problem-oriented study. The viewpoint is legal, comprising both domestic and comparative law. However, despite the importance of an international perspective, the focus is on the European and the Finnish systems.

Finally, I also approach the research problem from of the viewpoints of technology, sociology and history, and use the theory of Science and Technology Studies, STS. The study provides an overview of, for example, Bruno Latour’s actor network theory (Actor-Network Theory), and discusses which kind of actors can be found behind intellectual property law, tort law and the privacy laws. The sociological and historical study is carried out in the latter part of the thesis as an adjunct to legal analysis.

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