Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Wild West of Robot Law

Credit: DM7/Adobe

Credit: DM7/Adobe

By Matthew Rimmer

Robots remain a law unto themselves, with legal frontiers including issues such as liability, copyright and even the taxing of robots much like the human workers they are replacing.

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Westworld is a new American science fiction show that taps into our hopes and fears about robots. The show imagines a Wild West theme park populated by androids and robots that indulge the dreams and fantasies of wealthy human visitors. Westworld is a mediation upon the law, ethics and social norms as they apply to robots.

Robotics is a disruptive technology that is transforming our society and economy. In transport we already see autonomous vehicles, drones and aquabots; robots have been deployed in agriculture, hospitals and the environment; and they increasingly feature in civilian law enforcement and the battlefield. While robots have been increasingly promoted as part of Australia’s “ideas boom”, there has also been anxiety about how robotics and artificial intelligence will affect education and employment.

There has been a growing debate about the regulation of robots across a range of contexts. In many respects, robotics remains like the Wild West – a frontier that is as much regulated by social norms and the marketplace as by legal rules. Policy-makers, lawyers, philosophers and other experts have been grappling with the legal, ethical and public policy challenges posed by robotics, with Robot Law co-editor A. Michael Froomkin observing that “the increasing sophistication of robots and their widespread deployment ... requires rethinking a wide...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.