From election-rigging bots to potentially lethal autonomous cars, artificial intelligence is straining legal boundaries. Here’s what we need to keep it in check.
THE car’s computer saw Elaine Herzberg pushing her bicycle across the highway a full six seconds before it struck her. Travelling at just under 70 kilometres per hour, it had more than enough time to stop or swerve. But it did neither, hitting her head on. Herzberg died in hospital, the first pedestrian to be killed by an autonomous vehicle.
A preliminary investigation by the US National Transport Safety Board into the collision, which happened in Tempe, Arizona, in March, found that the emergency braking procedure of the Uber-operated car was designed to be disabled when driving autonomously to ensure a smoother ride. It was also not designed to alert the human operator of danger.
We are a far cry from Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics: a robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm. Of course, Asimov’s laws are fictional. They are also 75 years old. But the idea of rigid rules that keep wayward robots in check has stuck around in the popular imagination.
Today, we find ourselves in a world fast filling with robots. They are driving our cars, performing our medical procedures, influencing our elections and threatening to take our jobs. It is obvious we can’t live without them, but the deeper question of how we live with them remains unanswered.
The past couple of years has seen a slew of reports from governments and think tanks offering policy recommendations, but so far Asimov’s model of neat self-contained commandments remains a fantasy. How do we change that?