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Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers 202

Posted by timothy
from the your-roomba's-in-my-peanut-butter dept.
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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Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers

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  • Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DWMorse (1816016) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @10:39AM (#34896660) Homepage

    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... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 16, 2011 @10:42AM (#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.

  • by Dolphinzilla (199489) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @10:45AM (#34896702) Journal

    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

  • by automandc (196618) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:40PM (#34898222)

    As an attorney, reading this question invokes the same reactions that many of the /. crowd would have if I started trying to opine on the technical failings that would allow our mythical vandals to reprogram the hypothetical robot.

    Not to get too technical, but just because you sue the company doesn't mean you win. The liability insurance that even the smallest companies carry would cover the legal costs of having such a suit dismissed. (For the technically inclined, look up comparative negligence and the proverbial "intervening bad actor").

    The homeowner (the ones suing) would probably be found more responsible for not following basic security etc.

    As others have pointed out, software companies have long been given practically a free ride in harm caused by poorly written software. First, they have been allowed to disclaim the standard warranties of fitness and function. This is akin to buying a car that the manufacturer won't promise to actually work or be safe. If Ford told you that they wouldn't guarantee that pressing the brake pedal actually engaged the brakes, would you drive that car? Yet every piece of commercial software we use specifically says that there is no promise that it will work at all, or do what the purchaser wants.

    Here is a counter hypothetical (more realistic as it has actually happened). A relative dies in a plane crash. The FAA investigation conclusively shows that the accident was caused by a bug in one of the key computer systems. Should you sue: the airline? The manufacturer (boeing/airbus)? The subcontractor that wrote the software?

    The answer is, you sue the airline, and the system is set up so that anything you win from them, they can then sue to recover from the party up the chain. Thus, everyone's liability is ultimately apportioned according to their degree of fault (note, yes it is a gross simplification). This is why people writing software for critical systems (ones where a failure can cause property damage or injury) need a good lawyer to write their contracts/licenses. They law has allowed programmers to avoid their responsibilties for a long time, so if a sw company doesn't take advantage of that, it is their own fault.

    Consider, there is no educational or professional certification required to write and sell software that controls an infant incubator used in an NICU, but you need a government license to drive to the store. Programmers and engineers have been getting a sweet deal in liability for years, so it's awesome to hear them still complaining.

  • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday January 17, 2011 @09:05AM (#34903494) Homepage

    The reason Windows has had so many exploits is because in the 90s people were demanding an OS compatible with their existing software, i.e. one where you run at root all the time with no firewall and all services on by default. All applications are trusted to make system wide changes. If you changed any of that they wouldn't install or run. XP made things a bit better but it wasn't until Vista that they changed the default to untrusted and look at how (un)popular that decision was.

    Vista was the bitter medicine needed to force developers to start behaving. The much hated UAC prompts were not for users, they were to make the experience of badly written software so shitty that the developer would be forced to change it. Now 7 is out and more of the legacy crap has been dropped, as well as applications in general becoming less stupid and more compatible with secure settings, Windows is actually fairly secure. Certainly the days of limitless remote exploits are over, with most hacks being targeted at applications instead of the OS. A lot of exploits rely on the user doing something stupid such as installing random software they downloaded. Nothing is perfect but companies running Vista/7 have a lot fewer problems with viruses than those still on XP.

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