Say someone built a machine, that was perfectly human in mind. It got angry and killed someone. Is the person who created the machine, nothing, or somehow the machine at fault in U.S. law?


closed as unclear what you're asking by Hohmannfan, Aify, bilbo_pingouin, Pavel Janicek, Frostfyre Jun 13 '16 at 12:06

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  • $\begingroup$ Current Laws? Laws where machine intelligence is high enough to be worth defining a set of rules for them? If it's about the current laws in the us, you might consider Law. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Jun 13 '16 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ This might be better suited to Philosophy.SE. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Jun 13 '16 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ It could be interesting to look at old laws on slavery, and legal responsibility of slaves and owners. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 13 '16 at 9:31

That would have to be decided in a lawsuit. Or several.

  • Criminal responsibility generally requires either criminal intent or criminal negligence. If there was no intent, the question becomes if the operator of the gadget or the inventor of the gadget should have prevented it somehow.
  • Civil responsibility has a lower standard of proof. There could be a wrongful death suit.
  • Then there is the probable product liability suit.

As a layman, if the gadget is sentient enough to take the responsibility, it should have civil rights.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello JavaProphet, thanks for accepting my answer, but it is usual to wait a few days with that. There might be an even better answer along later. If you like my answer, upvote but don't accept yet. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jun 13 '16 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ How many times Gun manufacturers get law suits because people die by gunshots? final user could be fully responsible of the sentient AI just because he had turned a button On. $\endgroup$ – GameDeveloper Aug 31 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DarioOO, I can think of no nation where the gun laws are rational and reasonable. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Aug 31 '16 at 16:07

While the wording is slightly different, this is the big argument in car manufacturing right now.

Who is responsible if a self driving car has an accident?

The car itself is not a valid entity in law, currently the argument is leaning towards the manufacturer being responsible to the point of Volvo making a statement to that effect.

There's no definitive answer yet. There will have to be one before self driving cars are allowed loose on the roads so hold on for an answer soon.

There's also a secondary issue here, teaching the cars to handle the trolley problem.


Disclaimer: I'm no citizen of the US, nor am I a lawyer or anyone who comes in direct contact with correctional law.

That said, I think the biggest issues are proving that:

  1. The machine is 100% sentient in all legal terms, i.e. capable of making decisions independently from outside factors or human instructions.
  2. The murder was an intentional action of the machine, not a (by)product of it's original AI coding.
  3. There's no criminal intent (or neglect) by the manufacturer, i.e., there's no trace of coding that would cause the machine to kill under certain circumstances.

If these terms are met the machine would be held responsible. We wouldn't sue parents for their murderous child (unless they are proven accomplices).

Self-driving cars (at least the type we have now) would not be a legal entity, as they are nothing but the sum of human instructions, so you can't sue them (no point anyway even if you would). If there's no fault to the infrastructure, I would expect the manufacturer to be held responsible. However, unless there is again no prove of any criminal intent/neglect, that would be as an accident, not a murder. And this would end up an insurance issue, not a correctional one.

  • $\begingroup$ Your points 2 and 3 seem in conflict to me. While obviously it's a fact that we don't hold parents liable for their adult children's crimes by virtue of their parenting; it seems to me that if a fully sapient machine had a predilection to murder, it would be disingenuous to hold the manufacturers liable but not parents of human murderers. Seems like a legal nightmare scenario to me. Ultimately it would probably depend on whether strong AI are ever granted legal personhood. In the end, how much of our behavior is ours alone and how much is a product of the collective influence of others? $\endgroup$ – roseannadu Jun 13 '16 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @roseannadu: I don't see how what you say reveals a conflict in what I said :). $\endgroup$ – Spikee Jun 15 '16 at 6:16

The machine would be responsible unless the creator did explicitly program the machine to act that way. Otherwise the inventor is no more responsible for the actions of the machine than a parent is for one of his or her children.

  • $\begingroup$ This has some philosophical implications. If that's the case, the machine would benefit from the same rights as humans generally. Not sure that is the case right now. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Jun 13 '16 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ But think about a gunmaker who built a gun and sold it legally to a third person. If another person is killed by the new owner, he will be made responsible for it. If the machine is conscious then the consciousness is the third person - the new owner of the weapon, that is of the physical machine. In my opinion it's a matter of control; since the inventor of the machine has no longer control over its actions, he can't be made responsible for it. Furthermore the creator couldn't have known what his machine or better the consciousness is going to do after it takes control over the machines body. $\endgroup$ – BobbyPi Jun 13 '16 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ My point, the constructor gave over the responsability. But that means that the machine in that case has to be considered responsible in its own right. Which isn't necessarily a given. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Jun 13 '16 at 8:25

US law does not recognize machines as "persons". As a result, any blame (if blame were determined) would rest with the builder.

Of course, the question would arise, "Did the builder have reason to think that normal operation (or even abnormal operation) might be reasonably considered dangerous?". So, how, exactly, did the machine kill its victim? If the machine has a built-in machine gun or chain saw, then it's pretty clear that the builder is in big trouble. If the machine used a built-in internet connection to modify the operation of another machine, as long as the modification were not "reasonably forseeable" there is no reason lay blame.

EDIT - Martine Votvik has pointed out that corporations are recognized as "persons". While this is true, it is a very limited version of personhood. US corporations cannot:

Vote Marry or divorce Be ordained Practice medicine Practice law Be assaulted or murdered or raped Be arrested or imprisoned (note that a warrant might be issued for officers of the corporation - but not the corporation itself)

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    $\begingroup$ on an ironic note, US law do reconize corporations as "persons"... $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 13 '16 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ Why would blame rest with the builder of the machine? A lot of the time, law places responsibility of action taken using machinery on the user or operator of the machinery in question, not the manufacturer. (Otherwise few car manufacturers would remain in business, let alone manufacturers of firearms.) I think your answer would be better if you went into some more depth on why the situation described by the OP would be sufficiently different that blame would be laid on the manufacturer of the machine. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 13 '16 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ I suspect that, by "the person who created the machine," the OP really means "the person who turned on the machine in an uncontrolled, non-laboratory setting, and allowed it to run amok in the world," especially if that person gave the machine any final instructions (e.g., "Go out there and act like a human being!"). $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Jun 13 '16 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MartineVotvik Yes, as juridicial persons. That is a good thing, since that's what allows you to either enter into a contract with them (e.g. buy stuff) or sue them. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Jun 13 '16 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MartineVotvik - see edit $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 13 '16 at 13:45

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