With the emergence of the military’s use of robotics (specifically, drones), and the potential for the government to utilize similar robotic devices in monitoring any number of persons/activities on American soil, legal concerns regarding their use have already arisen. Take, for instance, the issue of privacy. Using robotics for surveillance will necessarily create tension between national security enthusiasts and 4th Amendment junkies. Where will the government or the courts draw the line? An active debate on this issue is ongoing, with Supreme Court precedent providing no clear guidelines for drone surveillance at this point in time.

Who will be held liable in the event of an accident or malfunction? I pose the following hypothetical scenario: IBM’s Watson, the AI computer system that left its audience and competitors marveling in wonder on Jeopardy, mispronounces an otherwise correct answer and loses during the Final Jeopardy round. Watson subsequently “malfunctions” and charges Alex Trebek, injuring the show’s host on national television. Presuming Trebek wishes to sue and recoup costs for his injury’s treatment, who will he sue? One can imagine the number of potential “causes” of a robot’s malfunction, which could potentially lead to another’s injury: its software, hardware, environment, user input, etc. If an accident or injury occurs, it may be difficult to pinpoint the actual cause, let alone the “proximate cause.” Issues regarding liability for situations in which robots cause harm will need to be addressed and resolved in the near future, otherwise uncertainty of legal risks could stymie investments in robotics.

With the introduction of robots into the workplace, what will be left of the payroll tax scheme?  If an employee of Company X is replaced by a robot, Company X can theoretically treat said robot as an expenditure instead of an employee, and not have to pay a payroll tax at all. Will Company X, then, be taxed at a higher rate? What will the result be?

Robots will likely cause countless legal headaches (and potential opportunities for lawyers?) in the near future. How will the legal world respond to these (and countless other) robotic scenarios?

–Jake Raff

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