Thursday, September 10, 2009

Robot Law: Tomorrow's Trendy LLM?

Without a doubt, the most eye-catching title to arrive at the Goodson Law Library this summer was Killer Robots: Legality and Ethicality of Autonomous Weapons (UG479 .K75 2009). Author Armin Krishnan assures us in his introduction that autonomous killing machines imagined by films like the Terminator franchise do not exist. For the next six chapters, though, he explores what would happen if they did. Far-fetched? Perhaps-- but as a result of the astonishing growth in remote-controlled military robots over the last decade, some researchers suggest that truly autonomous weapons could be developed by as early as 2025. Krishnan’s text focuses mostly on the historical development of robotics in the military and the ethical implications of using autonomous weaponry. Chapter 4, however, examines “The Legality of Autonomous Weapons,” considering possible implications on the field of international law.

Although Killer Robots looks a bit lonely on the Goodson Law Library’s shelf, it turns out to be just the latest entry in “robot scholarship”. Additional titles in the Duke Libraries’ catalog can be found with a subject keyword search for military robots; additional titles might be located under artificial intelligence or autonomous robots. Article searching for keywords like robots and law may turn up additional results, including the British Society for Computers and Law’s October/November 2008 Computers & Law cover story on the legal implications of autonomous weapons. (Unfortunately, the Duke Libraries do not subscribe to this title, so the truly curious will need to submit an interlibrary loan request.)

The Goodson Blogson can only hope that the current academic interest in military robots will usher in a sweeping new era of robot legal studies, in which every area of law must be examined through the prism of its robotic implications. For example, no debate on health care reform could be complete without considering Saturday Night Live’s 1995 dystopian vision of the impact of killer robots on insurance coverage:

But perhaps we will need to wait until 2025 for our dreams to become reality.