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“Homewrecker 2.0”, or Pygmalion for a Modern Age

Restatement of Torts, Please Meet Galatea.

After reading an article in Harper’s last year about “the world’s first sex robot,” a few friends and I started thinking about hypothetical situations in which the actions of an artificially intelligent sexbot would lead to a court case. Of the situations we considered, it was most fun to discuss those in which laws that were designed to regulate interactions between humans suddenly faced the prospect of regulating interactions between humans and machines. Who might be liable in those situations? For that matter, who should be liable? This November I’ll be presenting my paper, Homewrecker 2.0: An Exploration of Liability for Heart Balm Torts Involving AI Humanoid Consorts”, at the 2011 International Conference on Social Robotics, in Amsterdam. The paper takes a stab at answering those questions of liability.

My paper focuses on hypothetical heart balm tort cases involving a claim for alienation of affections or criminal conversion. These torts allow an aggrieved spouse to sue his/her spouse’s third-party paramour. “Homewrecker 2.0” considers what might happen in such a court case if the third-party person in this scenario were an artificially intelligent robot.

Do I think this is a likely situation? David Levy, AI expert and author of Robots Unlimited and Love and Sex With Robots, thinks that it will be common for people to be in amorous relationships with robots within the next few decades. Whether this happens, though, I don’t think matters to the main point of the paper.

The main argument is that lawyers and engineers need to think beyond the usual limits of product liability, so long as we’re intent on adding socially interactive AI into situations that would ordinarily be only human. In other words, socially interactive robots need to be “safe to play with” in a way that manufacturers of toaster ovens never had to imagine.

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