The Relational Robot: A Normative Lens for AI Legal Neutrality (Reviewing Ryan Abbott, The Reasonable Robot, Cambridge University Press, 2020)
Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies (2022 Forthcoming)
17 Pages Posted: 27 May 2022
Date Written: September 1, 2021
In his impactful book, "The Reasonable Robot" (Cambridge UP, 2020), Ryan Abbott proposes a new guiding tenet for the law’s regulation of Artificial Intelligence: AI legal neutrality. This would establish, as a principled starting point, the default position that “the law should not discriminate between AI and human behaviour.” In this Review Essay, I suggest that AI legal neutrality, as conceived by Abbott, is an interesting proposition but a potentially dangerous default principle with which to equip law for the emerging realities of AI. When we scratch beneath the surface, this concept of neutrality or equal treatment is too focused on the individual person/thing, and too reliant on analogical reasoning and false equivalence. It is therefore too far removed from the normative underpinnings of law, its subjects, and its teleology. Instead, I argue, we need a more substantive notion of law’s technological neutrality—one that looks to the law’s normative objectives to set the default. The place to start, I suggest, is not with a legal neutrality that, by design, disregards the inherent differences between humans and robots and their respective behaviors; on the contrary, we need to be fully attentive to the dynamics of human-robot relations in social context – and alert to the dangers of overlooking differences. Rights and responsibilities should be allocated with a clear view to the relationships and subjectivities they shape and the social values they advance.
In Part II, I outline Abbott’s argument in respect of legal neutrality and its application to intellectual property law. I then compare its implications in the patent law sphere to its potential significance in the copyright context. In Part III, I sketch an alternative approach to understanding technological neutrality and law, concerned with consistency in pursuit of normative objectives rather than formal non-discrimination between technologies. I conclude by proposing a relational approach to regulating robots, which would, I believe, bring a much-needed normative lens to the pursuit of legal neutrality.
Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Intellectual Property, Patent Law, Copyright, Authorship, Technological Neutrality
JEL Classification: O31, O33, O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation