If Robots Cause Harm, Who Is to Blame? Self-Driving Cars and Criminal Liability

25 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2016 Last revised: 18 May 2020

See all articles by Sabine Gless

Sabine Gless

University of Basel

Emily Silverman

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Thomas Weigend

University of Cologne

Date Written: January 29, 2016

Abstract

The fact that robots, especially self-driving cars, have become part of our daily lives raises novel issues in criminal law. Robots can malfunction and cause serious harm. But as things stand today, they are not suitable recipients of criminal punishment, mainly because they cannot conceive of themselves as morally responsible agents and because they cannot understand the concept of retributive punishment. Humans who produce, program, market and employ robots are subject to criminal liability for intentional crime if they knowingly use a robot to cause harm to others. A person who allows a self-teaching robot to interact with humans can foresee that the robot might get out of control and cause harm. This fact alone may give rise to negligence liability. In light of the overall social benefits associated with the use of many of today's robots, however, the authors argue in favor of limiting the criminal liability of operators to situations where they neglect to undertake reasonable measures to control the risks emanating from robots.

Keywords: robots, robot cars; autonomous driving, self-driving cars, criminal responsibility, negligence, comparative criminal law

Suggested Citation

Gless, Sabine and Silverman, Emily and Weigend, Thomas, If Robots Cause Harm, Who Is to Blame? Self-Driving Cars and Criminal Liability (January 29, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2724592 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2724592

Sabine Gless (Contact Author)

University of Basel ( email )

Petersplatz 1
Basel, CH-4003
Switzerland

Emily Silverman

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law ( email )

Guenterstalstr. 73
Freiburg, 79100
Germany

Thomas Weigend

University of Cologne ( email )

Albertus-Magnus-Platz
Cologne, 50923
Germany

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