2019 Conference




Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Law
14-15 January 2019


The development of artificial intelligence (AI), in general and robotics in particular, raises new and delicate issues. New types of robots, so-called "smart robots", are notably capable of interacting with the environment and with humans, have the capacity to learn, to adapt, to evolve and to take decisions in an autonomous capacity. So far, robots have been used mainly in the industrial sector, notably in manufactures (cars, shoes, etc.). But robots are now designed and implemented also more and more in the service sector. We see robots acting for example in health care (helping patients with difficulties), in medicine (such as the robot "Da Vinci" used in surgery), in economics and banking, in law (such as "Ross", helping for legal research), in entertainment or in transportation (drones and self-driving cars).

These various developments have of course positive aspects because sometimes boring, repetitive or even dangerous tasks may be effectuated by robots. In addition, the use of AI in all the sectors of the economy is likely to improve the productivity and efficiency of the economy as a whole. But this change of model, sometimes also called the 4th industrial revolution, brings also new concerns. For instance, the use of robots and AI in general for military purposes (so-called « robots killers ») is a matter of increasing worry and reluctance. Last year, a session at the United Nation was held about this topic, trying to develop some general guidance and limits to the use of such robots killers. In addition, the impact of this development on human labor has been discussed widely and remains quite controversial among experts. On the one hand, the optimists consider that, like in all past industrial revolutions, changes in economics models, have always created more jobs, from a global perspective. On the other hand, the pessimists argue that, due to the potential future scope of the development of AI, it is unlikely that sufficient new jobs would be created in order to replace the disappearing ones. New ethical concerns have also become relevant because AI, implemented in robots, will eventually be able to « decide », to choose among various possibilities and interact with human in an autonomous ways.

The use of robots in such extended possibilities and economic activities have also started to raise new legal concerns. The issues are extremely broad and evolving rapidly. We will here just mention a few relevant areas. Damages in case of failure (accident of self-driving cars or drones) or dangerous use of robots raise the question of the potential liabilities. Who is liable in case of damages caused by illicit use or "wrong" decision of robots? The manufacturer, the software designer or the robot as such? On February 2017, the EU Parliament has published a report on civil law aspects of the use of robots, notably questioning the possibility of introducing some kind of legal personality of robots and/or rules in order to address various legal aspects of the uses of robots and notably civil liabilities. In addition, robots, viewed potentially as « autonomous » persons, could become part of contracts, sell goods or provide services. Contracts as such, so-called smart contracts, could also involve and be influenced by the uses of AI. Furthermore, the amount of data gathered by the use of AI in such a broad scale is also problematic. In some cases, robots and the AI used for their activities could store sensitive and personal data about human beings. In parallel, new and complex delimitation of intellectual property rights have to find guidance in this new environment. We should also mention in this context the impact on labor and the potential financial dramatic consequences (for social security notably), should the pessimists mentioned above be right. Some authors and economists have for that purpose started to suggest a new kind of taxation of robots, or digital economy as a whole. Finally, the issue of cyber-criminality also becomes a matter of great concern. AI offers new possibilities of dangerous and criminal behaviors which require careful attention and regulations.

The conference therefore will concentrate on the potential impact of the development of AI in general and robots in particular. In a global, comparative, and sometimes futuristic perspective, the various participants to the conference will try to cover some of the most relevant issues.

It is further suggested to associate interested International Organizations to this conference. Indeed, Geneva is the perfect place to coordinate a conference on such topic with other international organizations interested (WTO, IRU, ICRC, etc.).