By Thomas Baynes
In our ever developing and increasingly connected world we are beginning to see an influx of next generation technological systems which will come to shape the future. Cars connected to phones, phones connected to toasters, toasters connected to ovens and ovens connected to lamps. Household appliances are entering a transitional period from the analogue to the digital. Not only will future devices be connected to their users via the internet, but they will also be connected to each other. Not only that, but in a short time, these machines will be self-learning and intelligent. By self-learning and intelligent, we mean to say that the actions of these machines will gradually become more and more independent in their ability to make future decisions based on past actions. The home will soon become a digital ecosystem, with each machine autonomous and connected online. This is the internet of things.
Earlier this year, the European Parliament issued a report on the Civil laws on Robotics (the first legislative act of its kind on the matter) which sought to clarify the law around the points of liability and security. Europe needs to have a strong legal system in place that can effectively deal with these challenges so to ensure that its market is the leading global promoter of IOT software and connected devises. Under the Digital Single Market strategy, European plans to facilitate the new tech revolution by building a system throughout its Member States where high speed internet is accessible to all. This will thus create an environment where technological innovation can flourish.
From a legal perspective, this presents several challenging issues. As these machines are integrated more into our daily lives and our reliance on them increases, how do we ensure that the user’s rights are well protected. How will they affect our privacy? Who will be liable for them if they cause harm to a user? Do we first need to understand the mechanics before we seriously legislate on them? What happens if they are hacked? What area of law does this fall under- Data Protection? Consumer Protection? Contract? These are the issues currently being discussed at European level in an attempt to clarify the legal obligations for those programming, selling and using these technologies. This area has the potential to invigorate the European Digital Market. It is essential that the EU has a system in place that strengthens both consumer and industry rights.