Is there a definition of Robot?

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Published on LexisPSL on 28/03/2017

The following TMT Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Is there a definition of Robot?

Is there a definition of Robot?

There is no statutory definition of ‘a robot’ in England and Wales and there is no recognised global legal definition of the term. Some jurisdictions have looked to introduce their own definition, for example, South Korean law defines a robot in the following way:

‘An intelligent robot is an autonomous machine that understands its external environment independently, that operates and reacts alone.’

However, this and other attempts to define the term have not been adopted by the criminal or civil law regimes in England and Wales.

There is also no one agreed definition of robot among roboticists. The various definitions reflect specific research interests or design paradigms. Some roboticists qualify robots as mechanical objects that can do three things—they can sense, think and act. A technology does not ‘act’ by offering information in comprehensible form. ‘Acting’ means to have physical influence and therefore a software without physical influence is not a robot. Maja J. Matarić, Professor of Computer Science and Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems at the University of Southern California,  provided the following definition in 2007:

‘A robot is an autonomous system which exists in the physical world, can sense its environment, and can act on it to achieve some goals.’

As there is currently no legal framework for the civil liability of robots, robots are treated

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