The Path of Robotics Law

Innovation and Economic Growth, Privacy and Security and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


Jack M. Balkin


California Law Review Circuit, Vol. 6, pp. 45-60, 2015


To understand the legal problems presented by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, this paper proposes focusing on the social effects of the technology. Robots will have benefits, but they will also injure people.

Policy Relevance

The complexity of robots makes it hard to assign liability for injury. Even harder problems will arise when robots are used as substitutes for human beings.

Main Points

  • In the long run, robots and AI are likely to blur together, and will raise similar problems.
  • Robots (including AI) are a long way from being given their own rights and responsibilities, but they will create new things and/or injure human beings; the first key question that arises is, to which human being will the rights and responsibilities for robots’ actions be assigned?
  • The second key question is, what legal problems will arise when humans use robots (including AI) to substitute for human beings?
  • The most important lesson of cyberspace for robotics is that we should pay attention to the relationship between technology and society;
    • The problems that robots present early on will differ from those presented later.
    • Key elements of society include powerful actors, governing institutions, and features of human sexuality and family life.
  • Robots can cause physical harm, not just emotional or economic harm; the injuries they cause may be unforeseeable.
  • Robots will have owners, operators, retailers, designers, and programmers, may be connected to the Internet, and involve many layers of technology, bugs, upgrades, and security weaknesses; the question of who is at fault for an injury will be hard to resolve.
  • People respond to robots as if they are people or animals, and use robots as partial substitutes for human beings; this presents more complex problems than those of liability for injury.


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