Robots and the Law?

I want to ask a follow-up to Orin’s post below on Judge Friendly and Air Law.  I’ve taken an increasing interest in robotics – partly just robotics for its own interest, but also as a law professor from the standpoint of robots and the law.  It started, in my case, from spending time on battlefield robotics, but it has morphed into a larger interest in robotics and the law, and perhaps future law.

So I read Orin’s post, and the comments, and wonder whether there is a “there” to robotics and the law.  I don’t mean from the standpoint of teaching a course; I tend to resist that kind of course on pedagogical grounds.  I mean from the standpoint of a lawyer looking down the road and trying to anticipate what might be future areas of practice.  I agree with Jay’s comment to Orin’s post that we academics often tend to underestimate just how much particular specialization occurs in law practice on account of the particulars of statutes and regulation and the complicated factual circumstances of usage – we academics tend to dismiss the crucial details by saying, well, it’s all just tort or products liability, whereas from the practicing lawyer’s standpoint, the devil, and the practice, are in the details.

E.g., I mentioned robots and the law to a sophisticated law and economics professor, and he said, tell me if I’m wrong, but is there anything to this other than regular old tort and products liability law?  What’s different about robots?  I don’t know that there is – but I do wonder if that answer isn’t doing precisely what Jay warns against, correctly in my view – professorial reductionism.  Sure, it’s all just tort, but will that be true from the practice perspective?

My question is this:  if you assume, as I do, that robots will increasingly enter ordinary life, in ways that involve important things such as nursing care, and at least partly autonomous activities as well as gross locomotion and other physical activities, in ordinary and routine life  … what, if any, practice specialities in law are likely to emerge from that?

Speculate on ways in which this area might or might not become a genuinely distinct branch of law – but without simply engaging in pro forma reductivism of the “it’s all just products liability!” kind.  Of course this involves some speculation on the direction of technology and the social uses of robots, too.  (ps.  Let me head off now any comments related to the 3 Laws and all that.  Love Asimov too, but let’s not go there here.  I want to know what, if anything, might emerge as a practical law speciality in this area.)

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