Robot Law

Robot Law

Edited by Ryan Calo, A. Michael Froomkin and Ian Kerr

Robot Law brings together exemplary research on robotics law and policy – an area of scholarly inquiry responding to transformative technology. Expert scholars from law, engineering, computer science and philosophy provide original contributions on topics such as liability, warfare, domestic law enforcement, personhood, and other cutting-edge issues in robotics and artificial intelligence. Together the chapters form a field-defining look at an area of law that will only grow in importance.

Chapter 1: How should the law think about robots?

Neil M. Richards and William D. Smart

Subjects: innovation and technology, technology and ict, law - academic, internet and technology law, law and society, legal philosophy, legal theory, public international law, terrorism and security law, politics and public policy, public policy, terrorism and security


Today’s robots are leaving the research lab and coming to the consumer market. Yet many existing robots are not designed to interact with humans. Even the Roomba sees a human leg and a table leg as indistinguishable. While research labs are still the primary home for robots, they can provide us with an exciting glimpse of future robot applications in the real world. This chapter provides an overview of the conceptual issues and possible implications surrounding law, robots, and robotics. First, the authors offer a definition of robots as nonbiological autonomous agents: one that requires agency in the physical world, but only requires a subjective notion of agency or “apparent agency.” The authors then explore the capabilities of robots, noting what they do today and projecting what robots might be able to do in the future. The authors argue that we should look to the lessons of cyberlaw in developing and examining the metaphors for robots we use to shape the law. One key lesson is that if we get the metaphors wrong for robots, the outcome could be disastrous. The idea that robots are “just like people” – “the Android Fallacy” – should be entirely and outright rejected, according to the authors. Robots are tools, despite the fact that people, including lawmakers, tend to anthropomorphize robots with perceived human characteristics. Misunderstanding a new technology, in this case, anthropomorphizing analogies of robots, can have real, pernicious effects for legislative design and should be avoided.