SunTechRamble: Liability And Technology

Atomic CruiserThe really interesting thing that happened this week relates to the regulation of a computer system as a driver (at least in some circumstances).  It means that computer systems are gaining ‘privileges’ that were formerly only for humans. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but admittedly I blinked when I saw it.

Google’s efforts and it’s return in this area are noteworthy:

It appears that Google has persuaded federal regulators that — in some situations at least — the Tin Man has a heart.

In a letter sent this month to Google, Paul Hemmersbaugh, the chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seemed to accept that the computers controlling a self-driving car are the same as a human driver…

So there’s the very cool side of this where we could celebrate this as a win. Technology in this area has gotten to the point where we can replace humans as drivers by virtue of increased safety. Google has been posting monthly reports on their self driving car project, and it seems that self-driving cars greatest danger comes from behind.  Google’s first accident involving one of their vehicles was in July of last year – and they were rear-ended.

It’s going to get more complicated if you consider the architecture.

If the vehicle is self-contained, it means it will likely need software updates. That means that unpatched cars may be roaming the countryside, since unpatched software is all over the place.

If the vehicle is completely stupid without an internet connection, as the Amazon Echo is, then connectivity to the controlling application will be an issue.

It’s most likely to be a hybrid of both. Where does your responsibility as a passenger of a vehicle you own start and begin? Will you be able to modify your own vehicle as you can now? What about auto insurance, will that go away or will we be paying insurance on a vehicle we may not own and can’t control ourselves?

Technology and Law are about to meet again. It’s going to get messy.

You might want to start negotiating your side now.

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