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What happens when a robot commits a crime?

What happens when a robot commits a crime?
photo courtesy of shutterstock

Remember that movie with Will Smith called "I, Robot"? There were three laws, called the laws of robotics, that made sure robots would follow laws and keep humans safe. I'm starting to think that having a few laws of robotics would be a good thing.

Robots are generally thought of as a moving machine programmed to carry out complex actions. But bots don't have to have a physical form. Like the bot that recently went on a crime spree on the dark Web, all they need is programming and a little cash.

It all started innocently enough. Two coders created a bot called "The Random Darknet Shopper" for an art exhibit in Switzerland. The bot was given $100 weekly allowance and the instructions to buy random things on the dark Web and mail it to them.

At first, the results were pretty neat. A hat with some built-in spy gear, a pair of Nikes, a "stash can" to hide your valuables in plain sight. And then, things went a little sideways.

The coders were more than a little surprised when they received a package at their office that was unlike the others that came before it. It was disguised as a DVD, but when the wrapping came off things got bad.

It turns out the bot started buying illegal substances. Like, 10 pills of Ecstasy from Germany, illegal. And a very well-falsified Hungarian passport, illegal.

So, who's to blame here? The masters or the creation? In the U.S., the wording of the law would have to be followed instead of the spirit of the law because criminal law is statutory, according to Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington.

"'If, for instance, the law says a person may not knowingly purchase pirated merchandise or drugs, there is an argument that the artists did not violate the law,' he said. 'Whereas if the law says the person may not engage in this behavior recklessly, then the artists may well be found guilty, since they released the bot into an environment where they could be substantially certain some unlawful outcome would occur.'

'But, Calo adds, since the program was being made for an art show, 'I presume they even wanted the bot to yield illegal contraband to make the installation more exciting. Wanting a bad outcome doesn’t make it illegal (you cannot wish someone to death), but purposefully leaving the bot in the darknet until it yielded contraband seems hard to distinguish from intent.'"

Whatever the outcome would be here in the States, the coders have taken full responsibility for the actions of the bot and the contraband that was sent to them. However, one of them added, "But our lawyer and the Swiss constitution says art in the public interest is allowed to be free."

You can check out the coders' exhibit here.

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Source: Fusion
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