If Robots cause harm, Who is to blame? Self-driving Cars and Criminal Liability

Research paper by Gless, S, Silverman, E, Weigend, T.

Indexed on: 31 Jul '16Published on: 21 Jul '16Published in: New Criminal Law Review


The fact that robots, especially self-driving cars, have become part of our daily lives raises novel issues in criminal law. Robots can malfunction and cause serious harm. But as things stand today, they are not suitable recipients of criminal punishment, mainly because they cannot conceive of themselves as morally responsible agents and because they cannot understand the concept of retributive punishment. Humans who produce, program, market, and employ robots are subject to criminal liability for intentional crime if they knowingly use a robot to cause harm to others. A person who allows a self-teaching robot to interact with humans can foresee that the robot might get out of control and cause harm. This fact alone may give rise to negligence liability. In light of the overall social benefits associated with the use of many of today’s robots, however, the authors argue in favor of limiting the criminal liability of operators to situations where they neglect to undertake reasonable measures to control the risks emanating from robots.