Book review: The Reasonable Robot, Artificial Intelligence and the Law

In the description of The Reasonable Robot, Artificial Intelligence and the Law by Ryan Abbott (University of Surrey) it says:

Abbott argues that the law should not discriminate between AI and human behaviour and proposes a new legal principle that will ultimately improve human well-being.

This Kat was intrigued to find out more! The book is set out with an introduction followed by 7 chapters. 

The introduction ‘artificial intelligence and the law’ covers AI legal neutrality, tax, tort, intellectual property, criminal and the future of AI. In the intellectual property section, Abbott says that it is unclear whether AI-generated inventions, made without traditional inventors, are eligible for patent protection. As we know, this is currently being tested in the courts of the UK, USA, and Europe. In fact, Abbott was involved in the project which he discusses in the book, you can also find out more information on their website here, Katposts here and here. However, he suggests that “patent offices have likely been granting patents on AI-generated inventions for decades – but only because no one’s disclosing AI’s involvement.” Abbott argues that the law should permit patents for AI-generated inventions and even recognise AI as an inventor when AI meets inventorship criteria. This argument is based on the purpose of intellectual property to fulfil the purpose of encouraging socially valuable activities as well as financial motivations for inventors. He reasons that the machine has no use for the patent, but granting one would incentivise AI inventions. 

Chapter 1: 'Understanding artificial intelligence', provides a brief history and background on the development of AI. Abbott sets his definition of AI as 'an algorithm or machine capable of completing tasks that would otherwise require cognition'. This Kat recalls the definition proposed by Jacob Turner in Robot Rules as ‘the ability of a non-natural entity to make choices by an evaluative process’. These are similar ideas but perhaps Abbott’s definition is a lower threshold, in that the AI only needs to complete a task, rather than make a choice. Abbott's choice of word ‘cognition’ is interesting to this Kat – as she has a book called Law, Technology and Cognition! Cognition is a word that traditionally relates to brain function. This word therefore fits well with Abbott’s view that the law should not discriminate between AI and human behaviour. 

The introduction chapter then considers whether AI can think, and explain the different types of AI and its applications, including symbolic AI, connectionist AI and advanced AI. It concludes by discussing some of the characteristics of AI, including limited explainability, specific and weak, lack of predictability, physicality and autonomy. 

Kat Cognition 
Image: Jennifer Lamb

Chapter 2 asks whether artificial intelligence should pay taxes, based on the concern that AI will increase unemployment, since it can automate many work functions. In addition, if a company replaces a human worker with AI, the company will pay less tax.

Chapter 3, 'the reasonable robot', considers the important question of what happens when AI causes harm. It considers tort liability and negligence, followed by an alternative option of the reasonable person standard to AI tortfeasors. 

Chapter 6, 'punishing artificial intelligence', considers criminal liability of AI. This discussion also raises questions around the concept of punishment in criminal law theory. The book concludes with chapter 7, titled 'alternative perspectives on artificial intelligence and AI legal neutrality.' Abbott argues that when policymakers are considering regulating, AI legal neutrality should be included to ensure that unnecessary barriers are not erected that prevent us from realising the benefits of AI. He concludes:

Artificial intelligence is not part of our moral community, but it needs to be part of our legal one to promote human welfare… As AI increasingly steps into the shoes of people, it should become the measure of all things. Our challenge then may be less about how to regulate AI and more about how to regulate ourselves.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in the relationship between AI and law, and particularly those wishing to hear a different perspective on the future of AI and regulation.

Paperback £22.99

ISBN: 9781108459020

Book review: The Reasonable Robot, Artificial Intelligence and the Law Book review: The Reasonable Robot, Artificial Intelligence and the Law Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Thursday, October 29, 2020 Rating: 5

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