With millions of home and service robots already on the market, and millions more on the way, robotics is poised to be the next transformative technology. As with personal computers, personal robots are more likely to thrive if they are sufficiently open to third-party contributions of software and hardware. No less t... [read more]
With millions of home and service robots already on the market, and millions more on the way, robotics is poised to be the next transformative technology. As with personal computers, personal robots are more likely to thrive if they are sufficiently open to third-party contributions of software and hardware. No less than with telephony, cable, computing, and the Internet, an open robotics could foster innovation, spur consumer adoption, and create secondary markets. But open robots also present the potential for inestimable legal liability, which may lead entrepreneurs and investors to abandon open robots in favor of products with more limited functionality. This possibility flows from a key difference between personal computers and robots. Like PCs, open robots have no set function, run third-party software, and invite modification. But unlike PCs, personal robots are in a position directly to cause physical damage and injury. Thus, norms against suit and expedients to limit liability such as the economic loss doctrine are unlikely to transfer from the PC and consumer software context to that of robotics. This essay therefore recommends a selective immunity for manufacturers of open robotic platforms for what end users do with these platforms, akin to the immunity enjoyed under federal law by firearms manufacturers and websites. Selective immunity has the potential to preserve the conditions for innovation without compromising incentives for safety. The alternative is to risk being left behind in a key technology by countries with a higher bar to litigation and a serious head start.
M. Ryan Calo runs the Consumer Privacy and Legal Aspects of Autonomous Driving Projects at the Center for Internet & Society. Prior to joining the law school in 2008, Calo was an associate at Covington & Burling, LLP, where he advised companies on issues of data security, privacy, and telecommunications.Calo researches and presents on the intersection of law and technology. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Business Week, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets. Calo serves on several advisory and program committees, including Computers Freedom Privacy 2010, the Future of Privacy Forum, and National Robotics Week. He also co-chairs the American Bar Association Committee on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.Calo received his JD cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was a contributing editor to the Michigan Law Review and symposium editor of the Journal of Law Reform, and his BA in Philosophy from Dartmouth College. In 2005-2006, he served as a law clerk to the Honorable R. Guy Cole Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Prior to law school, Calo was an investigator of allegations of police misconduct in New York City.http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/profile/ryan-calo