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1. According to Isaac Asimov's 1942 sci-fi story Runaround, the ‘First Law of Robotics’ prescribes that ‘a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm’. The Second law states that ‘a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law’. Technology has come a long way since the heyday of sci-fi books and films about robot overlords and robotised weaponry. And while science-fiction literature and Hollywood have surely fuelled the imagination of the general audience, our civilisation is nowhere near robot domination yet. Nevertheless, technological developments in the methods and means of warfare brew at the horizon like an ever more ominous cloud, and the question of whether humanity needs its own Laws of Robotics becomes increasingly prominent.
2. As this book amply shows, the potential of robots and AI in law is tremendous. It certainly seems that in many fields of human activity, this great potential is of a largely beneficial kind. Efficiency, autonomy and an unmatched computational power promise sizeable gains in an array of legal domains. In international law, and more particularly in the realm of the conduct of hostilities, there is not as much space for unbridled optimism. This chapter will attempt to shed some light on important questions of international law when dealing with robots. First, the reader is introduced to the basic concepts of international humanitarian law and several prima facie concerns regarding their relationship to LAWs, in particular the principles of distinction and the prohibition of superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering (part 2). We then explore the legal aspects of LAWs relating to two themes: the authority awarded to machines and automated decision-making processes on wounding and/or killing humans in an armed conflict, as well as the processes and procedural safeguards behind targeting and engagement choices (part 3). This is followed by a briefing on current applications of LAWs and their foreseeable developments, with a particular focus on the US and China as the two military actors most advanced in developing such technology (part 4).
1. Currently, economic actors do not only track online behaviour of consumers but also gather information about the offline world through domestic appliances that are connected to the internet – also known as the ‘internet of things’ or IoT. The information collected can range from objective facts, such as the ambient temperature, to very personal data concerning its users. This contribution focuses on one specific application of AI in a domestic IoT setting: smart home assistants (SHAs).
2. Smart home assistants can be approached from two angles. First, there is the futurist point of view. According to this viewpoint, a technology can only be called a ‘smart home assistant’ if it pulls together data from different devices in the home, builds a real-time profile of the conditions in the home, and takes actions according to a combination of such analyses and commands issued by the home owner. However, when observing the real-life landscape it is clear that we are still far-removed from a widespread implementation of such SHAs. Although consumers increasingly own individual smart devices and household appliances, the only IoT devices that manage to achieve a considerable uptake percentage are home assistants, smart speakers and smart watches. Furthermore, there is scepticism among consumers regarding the need for a central control system vis-à-vis individual controls by different devices and apps, which is possibly explained by the lack of trust consumers have in the security of these devices.
3. This contribution therefore takes a realistic angle and chooses to investigate the currently most widely used SHAs: the combination of a smart speaker with a virtual personal assistant (VPA). Around 24% of the population in the United States now have at least one such a device and adopters on average have 2.6 such devices in their home. A recent UK survey revealed that 22% of those interviewed owned such a device. In the Netherlands around 19% of the population is estimated to have a smart speaker in their household. For Belgium, no numbers were found.
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