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Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the your-roomba's-in-my-peanut-butter dept.

Robotics 202

cpu6502 writes "Robert Silverberg wrote a recent editorial about the dangers of robots and the legal consequences for their programmers and engineers: 'Consider malicious kids hacking into a house that uses a robot cleaning system and reprogramming the robot to smash dishes and break furniture. If the hackers are caught and sued, but turn out not to have any assets, isn't it likely that the lawyers will go after the programmer who designed it or the manufacturer who built it? In our society, the liability concept is upwardly mobile, searching always for the deepest pocket.'"

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202 comments

Maybe... (4, Insightful)

DWMorse (1816016) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896660)

Maybe... But last I saw, Ford Motor Company wasn't liable for drunk drivers that use their vehicles to drink and drive, resulting in death or destruction of property. This makes me think that engineering a product doesn't necessarily make you liable for someone that breaks it apart.

Now, if your product was a security software, and you advertised it to supposedly prevent this...

Re:Maybe... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896684)

A more apt car analogy would be suing ford because someone broke into your car. Or suing Microsoft because somebody hacked your server. There's zero precedent to these types of lawsuits, and adding "with a robot" doesn't change that. This article is fucking retarded, even for Slashdot.

Do we even need an analogy? (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897100)

If this is a likely scenario then where are all the people suing Microsoft because Windows let hackers install malicious code which deleted data. This happens frequently and yet I'm not aware of MS getting sued.

Re:Do we even need an analogy? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897406)

I recall the MS EULA specifically prevents any liability. It's near the bit that forbids the use of general-purpose Windows licences in the operation of nuclear facilities or other places there there is potential for epic fail. Maybe robots will have an EULA too, with a similar clause.

Re:Do we even need an analogy? (3, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897590)

Why do people always assume that just because it's in the EULA, it's legally binding. It's a factor, certainly, but generally courts take a dim view of companies trying to weasel out of their legal obligations with this sort of thing. There's still an expectation that the software is fit for purpose.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Schadrach (1042952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897208)

You mean like how "on the internet" doesn't change anything regarding lawsuits or patents? =p

Re:Maybe... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897420)

I wouldn't be so sure. "With the internet" sure changed a LOT, things that are (il)legal under normal circumstances suddenly flip legality when "with the internet" is added to it.

Re:Maybe... (3, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896718)

I'm not worried at all because I have a Robot Lawyer ®.

Re:Maybe... (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897510)

But what if it fails to defend you properly...

Re:Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896720)

And in cases where Ford ARE liable for a defect in their car I'd say it's damn unusual for anyone to sue their programmers (or engineers etc) personally. That's unlikely to happen unless the programmer has not only been highly negligent but is also extremely rich - otherwise it's just not worth it.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896758)

the argument that will be used is that the software engineer or programmer didn't do the use cases to foresee the potential for misuse and abuse of the product by criminals - and that they were therefore negligent - I don't buy this argument but lawyers are a slimy lot !

Re:Maybe... (5, Interesting)

TWX (665546) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897106)

the argument that will be used is that the software engineer or programmer didn't do the use cases to foresee the potential for misuse and abuse of the product by criminals - and that they were therefore negligent - I don't buy this argument but lawyers are a slimy lot !

Why don't you buy it? I'm amazed that Microsoft hasn't had the crap kicked out of them due to how vulnerable their software has been to exploitation, and exploitation that has left numerous unaffiliated companies that don't even use Microsoft operating systems. Users whose computers are easily compromised and companies who have suffered the ill effects of attacks made by compromised or hijacked computers should have one hell of a case.

As far as liability for physical devices goes, while the OP's point that as an owner, misusing a product (like drunk operation of a motor vehicle) might not open the manufacturer to liability, I don't think that would even come close to the argument in a lawsuit. The argument would revolve around how 1) the manufacturer used consumer equipment and communications protocols for their equipment allowing other consumer equipment to contact the manufacturer's devices, and 2) that the manufacturer also neglected to provide sufficient safeguards to keep out those who aren't authorized to use the equipment, and the consumer protocols and equipment selected by the manufacturer made it unduly easy for even the technological layman to tamper with only minimal instruction or assistance.

IMHO, the state of commercial software development is atrocious. I don't expect every software product or operating system to be completely immune to exploitation, but the fact that commercial operating systems with large paid development teams and oversight by paid management still manage to have hundreds or thousands of weaknesses that lead to remote exploits or infections through applications like the friggin' web browser despite many users' attempts to lock down ports, installing antivirus and malware programs, and hiding behind firewalling routers, developers should be ashamed of themselves. Having worked in a company that was developing a communications application, and whose job was quality assurance, I can tell you that part of the problem is that most developers lack the devious streak to know how their software could be misused. They only see how they can make it function for X circumstances, not how Y and Z circumstances could lead to its compromise. As the QA tester it was far, far too easy to break or exploit communications daemons, and when the programmers were confronted by the evidence they got defensive and indignant instead of wanting to know more about the nature of the test or the fault. As long as that attitude prevails in programming this sort of thing will continue to plague our software, and in my opinion, development companies should be responsible for the ramifications of their decisions.

Re:Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896790)

You're right - Ford doesn't get sued for drunk drivers operating their cars. Insurance companies, on the other hand...
Besides, if some kid hacked into and gained physical access to my house, wouldn't that count as trespassing and/or breaking an entering? We're not exactly talking about some future gray area of the law here. For example, if I put a robot into your house using a dog door/chimney/vent, my ass would still be responsible. Nobody is going to sue the company that made the robot.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896826)

Insurance companies, by definition, are paid to absorb the risk. That is the only reason they exist. And they are sued for the actions or negligence of the driver, not the actions of the car. When the car is at fault, the manufacturer is sued, like Toyota is being sued for the accelerator issue.

Re:Maybe... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896848)

For example, if I put a robot into your house using a dog door/chimney/vent, my ass would still be responsible. Nobody is going to sue the company that made the robot.

What happens if I bought the robot to wash dishes, then some script kiddie gets in and breaks a few thousand dollars worth of stuff (water damage can be expensive to fix). Liability is not a clear cut line in that case.

Re:Maybe... (2)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896912)

What happens if you buy a refrigerator specifically for keeping food cold, but I sneak in and put 400lbs of rotting meat and vegetables inside of it? Then, when you open it, the overwhelming stench causes you to throw up, then your wife slips on the puke puddle and breaks her leg? Yeah, I could see how GE might be responsible for making the fridge. Call it an attractive nuisance, I guess.

Re:Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896930)

What happens if I bought the robot to wash dishes, then some script kiddie gets in and breaks a few thousand dollars worth of stuff

What's so special about this robot that doesn't apply if the same script kiddie got at the computer that runs your car, or for Christ's sake, wrote a virus that deletes files worth a few thousand dollars on your computer? This story is stupid. Really really stupid. It's just playing off the magic word "robot". Well, if a "robot" was involved then that would be different. It's not like we already have billions of automated devices already in use. I wait, I thought we were still in the eighteenth century for a moment there.

Re:Maybe... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897022)

or for Christ's sake, wrote a virus that deletes files worth a few thousand dollars on your computer?

This item can result in liability, if my contract allows for it. That's already established.

The problem with robotic dishwashers or whatever is that they have implicit liability. That is, it's a machine that is intended to operate in a certain environment with certain expected risks. If a regular dishwasher breaks during routine use in a way that causes a lot of damage, especially if it's something that has happened repeatedly to other customers, then the manufacturer can indeed be liable for damages. The thing about software is that you also need to demonstrate that the code is used as intended. If I release some open source, it gets used later in a dishwasher and results in serious damage, I'm not responsible because I have no clue or control over how that software is used. Even if the court chooses to ignore waiver conditions on the license, it's absurd to hold me liable when I played no part in how the software was used in the product.

The most extreme examples of software liability are medical software, nuclear power plant software, and military software. Code in these places can result in vast liability, potentially even criminal.

Re:Maybe... (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896920)

Does this mean I can sue Microsoft when Windows crashes and I lose a bunch of data that's not backed up?

I mean, they programmed it to do one thing and it broke and caused me fiscal harm. That's the same thing, right?

Oh wait, that's right - I clicked 'Agree' when I installed Windows and waived away all of my rights to sue for bad programming. Problem solved (for them).

Re:Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897250)

The Microsoft EULA (Which you agreed to) specifically says that you can't sue them for anything whatsoever. So sorry nope. Their bug ridden POS is immune from lawsuits.
I've often hought that if MS made cars then they'd have been sued out of existence years ago. The damage to business all over the world for BSOD must be incalculable. So why haven't they been sued into Oblivion? The frigging EULA that's why.
Pah.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897536)

The Microsoft EULA (Which you agreed to) specifically says that you can't sue them for anything whatsoever. So sorry nope.

Many jurisdictions (including the US AFAIK) have the concept of unsonscionability [wikipedia.org] which limits on what you can "agree" to in a contract (assuming a EULA is even considered a contract.)

They can put in there that you agree to give them your first-born child on their 5th birthday. Doesn't mean they'd be able to enforce that in court. I suspect that a *lot* of terms in EULAs and contracts- and almost certainly that one- would be thrown out as unconscionable.

Of course, they probably take the cynical attitude that there's no harm in throwing it in there just in case it does work, or enough people believe it would and are dissuaded from legal action (etc.) anyway.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Gator (16820) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896928)

Don't think so? How about a Gun Manufacturer getting sued because their weapons were used by criminals to commit a crime? That has happened, and is still happening now. The 1-800-ASK-GARY scumbags of the world will go after whoever can pay.

Re:Maybe... (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897328)

Don't think so? How about a Gun Manufacturer getting sued because their weapons were used by criminals to commit a crime? That has happened, and is still happening now. The 1-800-ASK-GARY scumbags of the world will go after whoever can pay.

That's not the fault of the ambulance chasers, that's a political matter. The idea isn't to get money for the attorneys, the idea is to make it so risky to make guns that gun manufacturers go out of business, thus banning guns through the back door. Seems unlikely something similar would happen for home automation, at least until Robot Control Incorporated gets going.

Re:Maybe... (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896984)

There are no security holes within the car involved in drunk driving. However if the programmer did do something that made it easier for people to break into something then maybe the company should be held liable. Just as Ford would be held liable if they put shitty brakes in their car to cut costs.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897476)

Since Ford had the option to but in a breath-lock starter system, but instead chose a shitty non-breath-lock starter system to save costs, should they be held liable?

Re:Maybe... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897522)

Did something that made it easier to reprogram it? Like, say, making it programmable?

That's pretty much the point of having a programmable robot. To be able to reprogram it. If you insist in car analogies, how about saying that the maker of the navigation system should be held liable if someone breaks into your car and installs some bogus maps?

Re:Maybe... (1)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897002)

If I can get sued for my code by anyone who buys it, I better get paid every time someones buys it.

Re:Maybe... (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897076)

An even better example is the making of hand guns. The manufacturers have rarely been held liable for the way the gun was misused unless there was some really unusual wrong doing in the distribution of the weapon.
            In many ways our laws are able to be manipulated by language. For example a gun is not a weapon. It is like a whiskey bottle. If you try to bash someone with a whiskey bottle it becomes a weapon. If, instead of hunting, target shooting, or simply collecting than a gun is not a weapon at all. It becomes a weapon when one uses it as such. Then there are other legal deceits as well. The right to bear arms is the right to carry arms. Various laws have perverted the issue into the right to own arms which is nonsense. We have the right to carry arms. It is that simple. That is without permits,explanations, restrictions or penalties. The Bill of Rights makes this an issue beyond the touch of courts, legislatures or any other authorities.

Re:Maybe... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897090)

last I saw, Ford Motor Company wasn't liable for drunk drivers that use their vehicles to drink and drive, resulting in death or destruction of property

But Ford did get sued, successfully, when the damage was caused by cost cutting and bad engineering [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Maybe... (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897630)

Repeat after me.

You can sue anyone you want to and they will probably cough up settlement money just to make you go away.

How is this interesting? (2)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896664)

Or even news?

What happens if kids break into your house and break your dishes? You sue their parents? You sue the school for not teaching them well? You sue the government for not putting enough money in education?

There is no logic to who gets sued. Suing is an interesting part of physics - whenever there is a "Lots of money" gradient, and a "Has worse Lawyers" gradient, the suing target moves.

Now I'll just be off suing microsoft for my latest virus. Brb.

Re:How is this interesting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896752)

>> What happens if kids break into your house and break your dishes? You sue their parents?

Obviously my wife didn't pick out your dishes.

Re:How is this interesting? (1)

tukang (1209392) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896922)

It depends. If I bought a lock that was advertised as safe and the kids picked it with a paper clip then I may very well sue the company responsible for that advertisement. I think software is no different. You have to look at what was promised and what was delivered. The sophistication of the hack - actually the hole - also matters in determining if there was negligence. If the kids used a backdoor program that the devs forgot to take out or if the devs forgot to do something as simple as defending against sql injection then I would call that negligent (if the product was advertised as secure that is).

There's the option "You sue all of them?" (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897008)

Subj.

Also, I'm lodging a complaint against you for disturbing my mental balance by insinuating that suing random entities is somehow NOT good. Prepare to pay me ONE BILLION DOLORS!

Re:How is this interesting? (1)

kthreadd (1558445) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897024)

Actually, I would go to their parents, tell them about it and ask them nicely to not let them do that again. Then I would buy new dishes.

Would people really go to court over this? Seriously?

Re:How is this interesting? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897506)

Well, given the kids were said to have broken in, if the parents didn't volunteer to replace the dishes, and said dishes were sufficiently expensive to replace ... I could well imagine using small claims court to repair that defect in the parents.

Some people like to eat using fancy dishes. Like $500+ per plate. Not me, but I'm just saying, this scenario could have been about a serious amount of money. Less so if you eat off of $0.25 IKEA plates.

Programmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896688)

Why would they be liable? At the very most the company they work for would take the liability. But even then, they didn't do anything malicious in this case.

Re:Programmers? (2)

OddJobBob (1965628) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896890)

Yes it is the CEO or Engineering director they should go after. We had a boss who was insistent that we did not waste money getting our equipment tested by an external body for electrical safety, until he was informed that he was the person that could go to prison if some died as a result.

Re:Programmers? (1)

cjonslashdot (904508) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896964)

Yes, this is the real issue.

Software will not become more reliable until businesses start to value reliability, and they will not until the risk of liability becomes large and widespread.

As more and more of our lives depend on software, 99% reliability is no longer enough. A time will come when there will be a backlash against unreliable programmed devices, and litigation will be a part of this. At that time, organizations will have to entirely revise the way that they build their software, adopting methods and technologies that enhance reliability. At the present time, reliability is an after-thought. This is not sustainable. If every device in one's environment has 99% reliability and one uses 1000 devices every day, then something will always be failing.

Re:Programmers? (1)

Peeteriz (821290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897034)

Business will not value reliability until consumers will start so.
Not all, but most consumers will choose lower price to slightly higher reliability. My stuff doesn't have to be 100% reliable - stuff breaks, I replace it; if it breaks in the first year or two, then I get a free replacement due to warranty laws in EU; so why should I choose to pay more for vague promises of higher reliability?

Re:Programmers? (1)

cjonslashdot (904508) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897080)

I am not talking about something physically breaking. I am talking about something not working right when you need it to. Software glitches, such as a device freezing and needing to be restarted, or losing all of your data.

Re:Programmers? (1)

OddJobBob (1965628) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897228)

The discerning customer already does care about reliability of software. Look at the various prices you can pay for PVRs for example, the forums are full of complaints about the cheapo ones crashing and the expensive ones less so.

Another example is on aircraft. Have you ever been on a long-haul flight where the entertainment system is off or the telephone/Internet system does not work? In these cases the airline has a policy not to reset a system while in flight. They kick up a hell of a fuss about this as they lose revenue. The software has to be reliable as a simple reboot is not possible.

Re:Programmers? (1)

OddJobBob (1965628) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897102)

There is the inconvenience factor. If your cheap device breaks how long it is before you get a replacement? What if it fails in such a way to cause damage - the cheap laptop replacement power supplies from china for example. 10 euro gizmo versus the cost of a life or a house?

Re:Programmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897066)

A time will come when there will be a backlash against unreliable programmed devices, and litigation will be a part of this.

...and on that dark day of lawsuits and regulation, programming will finally disappear from the U.S., as the costs of development and legal dealings soar -- mirroring what happened with the manufacturing industries. Won't that be great?

Am I the only one who (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896694)

remembered the movie 'Runaway'? Cynthia Rhodes was hot then.

Re:Am I the only one who (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896724)

remembered the movie 'Runaway'? Cynthia Rhodes was hot then.

But she wasn't sued because the rest of the movie sucked.

Stop the insanity ! (4, Insightful)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896702)

This in my opinion is a major reason our society is so screwed up - why should we even consider it reasonable that lawyers can go after software engineers and programmers to "make someone pay" because the real criminals have no assets. Product liability insurance is a major reason why some things cost so much and until we break the cycle and get the lawyers out of control (most of them run our governments)these frivolous lawsuits will continue - in the end the only people that really win are the lawyers. This is the same argument as going after a Glock handgun designer because one of their weapons was used to shoot someone - its absurdity to the max

Re:Stop the insanity ! (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897000)

why should a software company hold no responsibility for anything their software does or lacks? I don't think you can blame a programmer for a problem with their software if the problem originates outside of their code but I do think companies should be held responsible for pumping out shit software.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897016)

I completely disagree with you on that.
A product designed by an engineer is sold to a layman, who is by definition not able to assess the inherent dangers of its use. If he was, he wouldn't need the service of an engineer to design the product in the first place. A layman is not an engineer. An engineer thus has either to transfer all the knowledge necessary to operate the product safely to the customer, or to make its use not dangerous, even the use the product was not originally intended for. And of course this can be controlled and if not correctly done, being sanctioned.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897158)

Someone please :swoosh!: me. Tell me that was a joke that went over my head. Because under that system no one would be allowed to sell anything more complicated than a stick. Maybe not even that.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (1)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897448)

The need to point out dangers that are not obvious to a customer is, in principle, a sane approach. But it entirely depends on the level of common sense you can legally assume the consumer to possess. In europe, you usually assume the consumer to be mostly sane, and not retarded. In that case, the system works fine. In the US, you sometimes seem to assume that the customer is the most redarded dickhead nature was able to create. In that case, you are stuck with insanely stupid warnings like "hot fluids must be handled with care", "objects in the mirror are closer than they appear" and "do not dry your pet in the microwave".

If you try to sue a car manufacturer in europe because you didn't know that cars in the rear view mirror appear smaller than in reality, you most probably would be deemed unfit to operate a vehicle and get your drivers licence invalidated.

Not society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897130)

Government. Government holds the key. "Society" merely follows the law, but it is precisely government that defines the law. The reason our country is drowning in frivolous, unjust, and excessive lawsuits isn't because "we" as a "society" made it so; it is because government made it so. Accordingly, only government can reverse it, by simplifying and clarifying the law, rendering it much less lucrative for those who would exploit the law for profit.

Of course, that's never going to happen -- for all the dirty billions made by slimebag lawyers, megacorp executives, and your low-life neighbor who sued you for slipping on your wet driveway, it is the business of government which is the real winner. After all, we are talking about the most expensive, most powerful government in world history.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (1)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897162)

Advertising using blatant falsehoods is likely more of a damper than liability losses.

The level of lies about the functionality and usability of most software (and most other things) boggles the mind. The lost time and effort for folks trying to dig into the truth is immense, and if anything it should be easier to take these companies to task for wild claims that are only farcically supported by reality at best.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897220)

There is no cause-effect relationship to be found. They only sue to get the expensive process going to create a basis for fees just like some consultants in other fields, particularly in the government sectors. This is allowed to go on as the courts and judges are creating a basis for fees as well. The system feeds itself. Market regulation for legal services, changes to the procedural laws and basic ethics and education with the enforcement through guilds and professional organizations should be enough to fix the situation over a few generations of lawyers.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897224)

The manufacturer of the pistol is probably innocent. Less innocent is the marketing man who, for cash, put it into the hands of someone prepared to use it. We've all encountered angry people - that's life. But I'd rather not be in the same place as an angry man with a loaded gun. It ain't guns that kill people - its the idiots that distribute them.

Re:Stop the insanity ! (1)

OddJobBob (1965628) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897480)

The only purpose of a handgun is to kill. It's that plain and simple, you buy the handgun with only one thing in mind so the manufacture is not liable for your actions. If however you buy a device that can be made into a weapon such as a deactivated one the manufacture has to be seen to have made reasonable steps to prevent this.

Most software licenses limit liability (1)

Edgester (105351) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896734)

Most software licenses have waivers of liability, and have a limit on the monetary damages. The limit is usually the purchase cost of the software. So, you can get a refund, and that's it. The only place I see that isn't waived are safety-critical applications, like medical devices, nuclear devices, vehicles, and factory floors. These are typically hard real-time systems. Besides, you can always blame the owner for not patching the system! The "unlock your car or home from your iphone" apps really worry me.

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896846)

I didn't even bother reading this article, the whole idea is ridiculous. If this was really a problem, then Microsoft would have been sued into oblivion before this century started.

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897138)

If this was really a problem, then Microsoft would have been sued into oblivion before this century started.

Because Microsoft sold so many defective robots in the '90s?

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897538)

Precisely. Most of them didn't even move.

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897026)

Most software licenses have waivers of liability, and have a limit on the monetary damages.

And those waivers don't mean anything unless a judge says they do, and even then, another judge may decide differently.

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (2)

jbengt (874751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897096)

Most software licenses have waivers of liability, and have a limit on the monetary damages.

Liability clauses can work both ways.
If a robot company produces and sells robots that cause harm, then they can be sued under product liability laws, which apply strict liability standards (in the US, anyway), which means that absent post-sale changes to the product, the producer/seller is liable, period. (If the harm is caused by a hacker, that's a different story.)
However, if a software company provides a service to a robot company, then the software may fall under a different liability doctrine in which the robot company would need to prove that the software company failed to use a reasonable standard of care in order to collect from them. Reasonable care is determined largely by comparing to the typical standard of care in the industry. In that case, any decent programmer would be safe from liability.
However, any competent legal advisor for the robot company would add clauses to the contract requiring the software company to indemnify the robot manufacturer from software failure. This is what insurance companies are for.

IANAL
YMMV

Re:Most software licenses limit liability (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897528)

Hm. Do AV companies pull this same stunt? I mean, if there's any particular software that should produce liabilities (as in "in exchange for money, you protect my system" kinda deals, thus excluding free licenses or open source stuff), you'd think it'd be the ones hootin' and hollerin' that they're needed to protect you from internet boogeymen.

In united states, very probably. (2)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896738)

because the legal system encourages profiteering over reparations. especially for the law firms. it is natural that these firms would use any excuse to have people sue other people for all kinds of bullshit.

It's God's fault. I'm just a poorly programed..... (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896760)

robot, so the charges ought to be dropped. Right officer?

Re:It's God's fault. I'm just a poorly programed.. (1)

francium de neobie (590783) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897300)

Well, if we can extort money from God with our lawyers, then you're right.

Nah (2)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896780)

1. Manufacturers will very likely isolate their product from function, only selling unprogrammed tools with APIs, to companies who resell the devices with an OS with strict functionality limitations, and DRM-like lockouts to isolate themselves from liability.

2. Companies will be careful in the beginning to set precedence that allows them to bypass such liability. Likely they'll create a set of manufactured "harm" scenarios, with honest but complicit victims with a vested interest in blocking most future lawsuits based on indirect liability.

Only once liability precedence has been set will the APIs open up on consumer tools from the major manufacturers. The court system may be insane in many ways - but they function to the needs of large companies - mostly as a negotiation device, and a filter for amount of money owned ("You must be this rich to use the court system").

Ryan Fenton

Anyone can be sued (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896792)

But programming has been around long enough that 1) I am sure there is an instance of this already and 2) There have been plenty instances of bad things occurring already that it should have happened if it was going to.

Re:Anyone can be sued (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896844)

Where is the news? Professional programmers should carry liability insurance just like physicians, product manufacturers and retailers

Re:Anyone can be sued (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897110)

why would a programmer need to carry this liability insurance. If they work for a business, they are shielded by the businesses liability insurance.

Bad Ideas (1)

crow_t_robot (528562) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896798)

This article could potentially give Dr. Forrester some bad ideas...Joel already has enough to deal with!

-Crow T. Robot

sure, lets sue everyone, just for money sakes (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896834)

Yes, and lets sue car manu's for making cars that can kill people.

Or gun makers since guns kill people.

Or the president, since he's, well, in charge.

I'm suing slashdot for these crappy articles.

Seriously, wtf is wrong here? I know it's sunday, but is this really news?

Re:sure, lets sue everyone, just for money sakes (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897586)

Guns are a little different from your other cases because having killed a person, you've only proved the guns fitness for purpose. You've made any liability suit for poor design harder, not easier, in that case.

Bad example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896858)

The example is aweful, but the problem is real. A better example would be driver-less cars, driven using AI and sensors. The technology has been there for some time now, but think of the legal liability! Even is such a system reduced the overall road deaths, it would shift liability from the customer to the manufacturer.

Of course there are other issues in this case as well.

Re:Bad example (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897212)

The problem is real for the manufacturers. But there may still be a significant question remaining whether programming provides a service or creates a product. The liability differences between the two are great.

Didn't happened (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896888)

Microsoft got ever sued for the damaged caused by the thousands of virus/botnets/trojans/intrusions caused by the "security" of their software? Not even got hit for delaying applying patches for known or being exploited vulnerabilities ever.

The young programmers must have something (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896908)

Usually young programmers have jobs, if they don't they can at least give works for the government as payment.

If so, then I'm suing God (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896914)

I'm going to sue God for creating me nearsighted, overweight and socially awkward.

speculation (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896924)

isn't it likely that the lawyers will go after the programmer who designed it or the manufacturer who built it? In our society, the liability concept is upwardly mobile, searching always for the deepest pocket.'"

If there's someone that will pay them for doing so, then sure, they may try. But why single out robots when there's already a device in most peoples' homes that is already being hacked for malevalent purposes? When is the last time anyone has brought a suit against Dell (and it went anywhere) because someone's computer was hacked/infected with malware and started acting as part of a botnet?

liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896940)

"the liability concept is upwardly mobile, searching always for the deepest pocket.'" .....well....that probably rules out the programmers.....

dan.

But but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34896970)

The 'Suits' (management) are already against us programmers, they don't need inspiring...

Easy fix (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 3 years ago | (#34896978)

Simply have human operators responsible for "monitoring" the robots. They take all the liability if something goes wrong.

After all, that's why (largely autonomous) light rail / subway trains pay college students / poor people / etc. to sit in the cab and hold the "door open" button for the train.

Probably also why we'll never have fully automated cars and passenger aircraft as well. Easiest to just blame the driver / pilot / etc. for failing to handle the situation appropriately. Or at least they're their to cast doubt on the court cases, as in how Toyota insists that drivers are just confusing the brake and the gas pedals with the runaway throttle problem.

Simply doesn't make sense for any company to allow themselves to be held fully liable for any fully automated product they sell, when they can shift / share the blame with some kind of operator.

also the autopilot does not work well when things (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897038)

also the autopilot does not work well when things go wrong and that when you need some there ask any pilot about that.

Re:also the autopilot does not work well when thin (1)

Xugumad (39311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897638)

Autopilots have a hard time dealing with situations that are not previously imagined, but don't underestimate how much the engineers can plan for, and the usefulness of an autopilot that can react far faster (and more calmly) than a human.

That said, having a person on-hand is a good idea anyway, out of the basic principal of having no single point of failure for a system.

How about door locks? (1)

velja27 (1427879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897018)

Does the door locks engineer or company get sued cause a burglar picked the lock? I don't think so.

Re:How about door locks? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897600)

Depends on if they advertise their lock as being immune to picking in order to increase sales.

Backwards (0)

dissy (172727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897028)

Sounds to me he is describing the dangers of a society where "the liability concept is upwardly mobile, searching always for the deepest pocket" more than any dangers of robots or programmers/engineers...

In fact this is and will be a problem with everything done in such a society, and shows how if the legal system is not radically changed, it will be the downfall of all innovation, which we have started to see with other countries leaping ahead in technical industries.

Unfortunately this system is designed in such a way to further propagate itself with little to no checks or balances in place to stop it, short of self destruction.
I sure hope I am wrong about that fact, but this articles author seems to have no insight to show otherwise.

Send the Robots after the Lawyers (1)

Beer Drunk (1059846) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897042)

Really all of our national foundations seem to have been compromised by wiseguys who have figured out how to game the systems. Our legal system has become the weapon of choice for robbery by lawyers and our economy has been trashed by bankers and Wall-Streeters who have turned that system into a mega Rube Goldberg machine that nobody can figure out.

Article is completely ridiculous. (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897058)

You build a product that might possibly injure somebody, you buy insurance. But if the product does injure somebody, they can't sue your insurance company. Heavens to Betsy, some juror might find out that an insurance company is really the defendant! Can't have that, juries are dumb! We'll make them sue the programmers or engineers. We'll have some stooge geek sitting in the dock, and we'll pretend through the entire trial that the engineer is really going to be personally liable for paying the verdict instead of our insurance company.

This is why punitive restitution is the best way (2)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897088)

Instead of locking the punks up, make them pay the victim 7 times the value of the damaged property. Deny them welfare until they've paid it back. If they commit another felony while they're still paying it off, double the sentence for that felony.

On the surface, it may sound harsh, but if they do $1000 of damage to their neighbor and the court makes them pay back $7,000 as restitution and punishment instead of booking them in the pokey for two years, which is less disruptive? Having to pay back $7,000 with no interest at 1-2x minimum wage or doing prison time and then trying to find a job?

An amazing argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34897128)

An amazing argument for tort reform in our country.

"programmer who designed"? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897238)

Programmers program. Engineers design. And the manufacturer of the robot would be no more likely to be sued than Ford would if the kids had smashed in the side of the house with a stolen Taurus.

If the kids had found a Sawzall in the basement and used it to trash the house do you think the homeowner could hold Milwaukee Electric Tool liable?

Re:"programmer who designed"? (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897390)

If the kids had found a Sawzall in the basement and used it to trash the house do you think the homeowner could hold Milwaukee Electric Tool liable?

You wouldn't think so, but then you see things like the Louisville Slugger case, where the manufacturers of a baseball bat were found liable for the death of someone hit by a batted ball, and you realize anything can happen in the court system.

Re:"programmer who designed"? (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897508)

If the kids had found a Sawzall in the basement and used it to trash the house do you think the homeowner could hold Milwaukee Electric Tool liable?

You wouldn't think so, but then you see things like the Louisville Slugger case, where the manufacturers of a baseball bat were found liable for the death of someone hit by a batted ball, and you realize anything can happen in the court system.

Without getting into weather or not the verdict was correct, the argument was that aluminum bats are much less safe than wood and H&B should have known that when they started making and selling them. I think similar arguments will be made (and no doubt have been) for robotic devices as they start causing problems. Defective or negligent design is the responsibility of the manufacturer; of course the definition of defective or negligent is open to interpretation.

Understand where this is coming from... (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897298)

Hu Jintao is on his way to Washington this week. The US and Chinese governments are basically married to each other at this point, whether they like it or not. And that marriage is built upon one thing: Western investment in a few big machines, operated by a bunch of small Chinese workers, and fed with resources extracted at gunpoint by the US military.

Personal robots would screw up that dynamic entirely.

That's the reason you see this constant droning fear-mongering bullshit about robot rights and robot liability and robot insurance from the US media-military-industrial complex. It isn't about safety or risk or even protecting American jobs. It's about protecting the incompetent globalist dipshits at the big banks who are selling out America to placate their hard-ons for centralized economic planning and production and a massive despotic government that confiscates the country's wealth just to dole it out to them via interest on their phony money and bail-outs of their stupid investments. It's about propping-up a means of economic production that is decidedly un-American, anti-middle-class and, in the long run, utterly self-destructive.

Seriously, who do you really think will be responsible when, instead of building you things and saving you money and keeping you from buying any more disposable consumer junk from the big-box stores and enabling you to retire and pay off your mortgage early, your household robot goes berserk and breaks all your china?

Not news (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897440)

People have already been killed by robots [wikipedia.org] 30 years ago, so it isn't exactly a new thing that robots can do harm. Also why shouldn't the companies be liable? If you build something that is dangerous enough to do serious harm and sell it to lay persons, you better make sure that it has enough build in safety mechanisms and doesn't just go crazy because some script kiddy came along and wanted to have some fun.

Anyone for MS then (1)

vanuda (1539873) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897442)

If one always can move for the one creating the system i would guess that MS would be a good target.. It's not that often a hacker is catched.. But MS can always be found..

4th Law (2)

stealth_finger (1809752) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897534)

1 A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2 A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3 A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

4 A robot must not make a mess and if it does it must clear up after itself.

Legally-speaking, probably not (1)

Grond (15515) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897550)

It is highly unlikely that the programmers or manufacturer of the original device would be liable. There are two main reasons. First, the wrongdoing of the hackers is almost certainly a superseding cause of the damage, which negates liability for negligence on the part of the programmers or manufacturer. Second, the product was not defective when it was sold and it was modified from its original condition, both of which negate products liability.

The law is stupid sometimes, but it is not that stupid.

doubtful (1)

Gripp (1969738) | more than 3 years ago | (#34897614)

I would say i could never imagine this happening... it is akin to suing MS because someone hacked your machine.... or a builder because someone broke into your house...
but with how crazy law suits are anymore, i'm sure that at some point something just like this will happen.
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