Among many concerns about prediction and human development in the future, the legal issues are just being thought about.
And not a moment too soon.
Michael Hanlon wrote a substantial piece in the Daily Telegraph (22 October) saying that ‘from self-driving cars to man-made consciousness, science is about to unleash a host of legal dilemmas.’
He said, ‘disruptive technologies are threatening to rewrite the legal rulebook … as we stare into a future of automation and genetic augmentation, of new robotic and reproductive technologies’ the 21st century will be a boom time for lawyers.
And we are already witnessing how Parliament and the courts are struggling to keep up with, never mind one step ahead, of cross border cybercriminals, web scams and crime made possible by technology.
New Legal Issues
The Self-Driving Car: the GPS-driven fully autonomous driver-less car is almost here and many pundits think they will make the streets safer.
But Michael Hanlon asked what happens ‘if a pedestrian is killed by a robot car, who is liable?’ Is it the driver who may have been reading or asleep? The car owner? The manufacturer?
Some lawyers reckon the old horse laws will prevail in this case. It would be unreasonable to expect a computer driven car to anticipate a foolish human action, like jumping out in front of it!
The Libel and Slander of Machines
Hanlon said that as people have successfully sued Google ‘because its search algorithms have linked them to criminal namesakes’, so it will be possible to hold a system, program, algorithm to account legally speaking in the future.
He cited conferences and discussions around the issue of future teleportation. The moving of humans from one place to another.
It is assumed that within a few decades it will possible to transport DNA and viruses across time and space. Hanlon said, ‘putting aside the possibility that a computer to achieve that would be bigger than the known universe’, who would be liable in the event of a malfunction? Would a machine (owners or manufacturers) be sued for murdering a human being?
Alternatively he asked, what if a new ‘you’ was not teleported, but a variant of ‘you’ was. Who is the real ‘you’?
Not Human At All
Hanlon’s big query was about ‘the discovery or advent of intelligent, conscious entities that are not human.’
There are experiments attempting to replicate animal consciousness by ‘reverse engineering’ and software. Human experiments will surely follow. But would these beings, if successful, actually be human, or some hybrid form of near-humanoid?
On alien life that may be found, even ‘Martian microbes’, who would be responsible if they were damaged or destroyed? Assuming they got a lawyer willing to take the case!
If an unsterilised space probe wipes out other creatures, who answers in these litigious times?
Hanlon saved his most frightening prospect till last. What if we successfully recreate ‘extinct hominid species’, like Neanderthal man. Neanderthals were close but were not actually ‘like us’.
As recreating living creatures from DNA left behind centuries ago has moved from the cloning and recombinant DNA sci-fi technology of Jurassic Park to the dreams of some scientists who would love to try it on extinct animals, it is only a matter of time before some scientists have a go on long gone humans and cousins….
A good argument of why it is not possible is at Shodor. But nonetheless, scientists, engineers, technologists and human beings in general are always restless, never satisfied and constantly looking to improve and break new frontiers….
And wherever and whenever they do, the law makers, lawyers and law breakers are never far behind. Isn’t that a comfort?
Other briefs to consider:
Michael Hanlon, Daily Telegraph 21 Oct 2013
Politics and Technology Are Increasingly Warming Towards Each Other, 24 September 2013
No Place for the Human Touch in Complex Algorithms, 20 August 2013
Cybercriminals Should Keep Us All Alert, Looking Over Our Shoulders, 22 October 2013
Image: Ashoka Jegroo