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Robotics The Almighty Buck The Courts Your Rights Online

Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers 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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Robots May Inspire Suits Against Programmers

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  • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @11:49AM (#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.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:05PM (#34897590) Journal
    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.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp