Robots and the Internet of Things seem to be the next big waves in tech, and companies like Google have been getting in on the action with timely investments in robotics labs and connected services, such as their purchase of Boston Dynamics (the frequent DARPA contractor) late last year and the purchase of Nest for a cool $3.2 billion. And with robots, drones, and wearable tech on the path to disruption, the public and lawmakers are struggling to come to terms with the future, speculating about the nightmarish potentials of the Connected Home and asking questions like: Who’s liable for driverless cars?
California has already stepped into the breach to attempt to answer the latter question and design a state regulatory scheme for automated vehicles, and Nevada has had regulatory control over automated cars since 2012. The District of Columbia is also working on a regulatory scheme. However, legislation is spotty at best at the state level and nonexistent at the federal level, which has led professor Ryan Calo to release a paper this month through the Brookings Institute arguing for the creation of a federal robotics commission.
This commission would function mostly in an advisory capacity to help guide robotics policy and bring the US up to speed with other countries that have already taken steps to advance robotics regulation and, therefore, innovation. Calo’s chiefest concern appears to be that without a central agency to administer the robotics market, piecemeal regulatory efforts might create an inconsistent and oppressive robotics policy that halts innovations and advances due to fear and lack of understanding. As calls to action go, the paper is thoughtful and encouraging, making the point that our government has the responsibility to understand emergent technologies and encourage growth of the tech sector. Certainly this approach would combat some of the fear inherent in displays of raw robotic power or the threat of surveillance by armies of drones.
What do you think, readers? Do you envision a federal robotics commission enforcing Asimov’s Laws? Do you imagine running from this fleet-footed monster in a dystopian future? Share your thoughts on robotics and robotic regulation in the comments below! And for more info on lawmaking related to automated vehicles (including links to the enacted and proposed bills around the country), check out Stanford’s cyberlaw wiki, and for robotics, they have a Robotics Law blog and have been past hosts of the We Robot conference on robotics law and policy.