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RoboLaw – ethical and legal implications of an emerging technology

What is the Robolaw Project?

The RoboLaw Project is an EU funded investigation into the ethical and legal issues surrounding the rapidly emerging technology of robotic applications and aims to provide European and national regulators with guidelines on how best to deal with them. This technology is set to affect our everyday lives in the very near future and, much like the bleeding edge developments in healthcare research and computing over the last 20 years, the implications of this new industry on society may be profound.

The main aims of the RoboLaw project are twofold:

Firstly, to find out whether existing legal frameworks are adequate and workable in light of the advent and rapid proliferation of robotics technologies; and secondly to discover how the developments in the field will affect the norms, values and social processes we hold dear.
The initial phase of the RoboLaw project has now concluded with the publication on 22nd September 2014 of the “Guidelines for Regulating Robotics”. These guidelines contain an extensive analysis of existing work in the area of robotics and roboethics, science and technology, philosophy and law and also details of research carried out on members of the public to ascertain the perception and understanding of robots and robotics generally.
With the understanding that emerging technologies have often left law makers and regulators in their slipstream, the RoboLaw project team has attempted to provide an early set of conclusions that may be used by regulators moving forwards.

All too often, industry leaders have operated in a vacuum that has not served them or their industries very well as they have developed. This has resulted in laws and regulations being adopted after the event in order to ‘try and fix the problem’ rather than provide a framework early on in the development cycle  within which industries can enhance their products and services whilst protecting the rights of the consumer and the public at large.
By way of example, data protection laws in the European Union were developed in an age when most if not all digital data sat on machines in large data centres owned by the corporates that ran them. Now, with cloud computing, data wings its way merrily across borders and between servers owned and operated by multiple entities and the laws protecting such transfer are struggling to keep up.

Robots and their use has attracted wide interest. The publication of a report by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic in November 2012, entitled ‘Human Rights Watch, Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots’  called for an international agreement to prohibit the development, production and deployment of autonomous weapons that would themselves decide which targets were legitimate or not and whether to take action against them or not.

The lack of human involvement in such systems has raised alarm bells – but the lack of human involvement in existing energy systems (think ‘smart meters’ and ‘smart grids’) and financial systems (think automated trading platforms) has raised little if any debate.

Just think, then, of the implications of autonomous weapons (drones), driverless cars, robotic prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons, brain computer interfaces and care robots and the need for some framework that has looked at and understood the current ability of law and regulation to deal with such developments appears more than necessary.

This is what the RoboLaw project is concerned with and this is why Bristows will be playing an active part in this debate.

As a law firm recognised nationally and internationally for its experience and expertise in advising clients on intellectual property and technology issues, it has few peers when it comes to the understanding of how such developments will be affected by law and regulation. From the protection and exploitation of inventions to the manufacture, distribution and licensing of technology through to advising on the regulatory aspects of business involved in the life sciences sector, Bristows has the experts available to help and advise.

Further details of Bristows’ evaluation of the ‘Guidelines on Regulating Robots’ will be forthcoming and added here in the Cookie Jar, as well as details of upcoming seminars on the topic – so stay tuned in.