Cyborg Liability: Risk and Innovation

Edited from a panel discussion on Cyborg Liability moderated by Rita Heimes, Research Director at IAPP at RSA 2016. 

What is the cost of not adapting? What are the missed opportunities for health and safety, that if we don't handle them correctly, are actually going to cause other kinds of harm? Is it more important to prevent a few autonomous car accidents, or prevent hundreds of thousands of human driver accidents?

That's the discussion we're looking at. If we don't really take this on, customers will adopt tech slowly, because they don't trust it, or too early, because they don't understand. Market opportunities go to waste. Companies go out of business, because they were waiting too long to innovate, because they were trying to be responsible around risks. We have this wild west effect, of a whole bunch of interoperable systems, that don't really work together, but they need to. Once it's launched, it's very difficult to go back and re-engineer them to have a base to make them more operable. Really, that's what we're looking at, and that's what I want to talk about today.

A great example of this in the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA sets the minimum standards for safety or sets minimum standards for crash requirements that then necessitates safety equipment, in cars. For example, they include requirements for side impact and they require pretty much every car put in side impact airbags. Then, that became law. You actually had to have it. They set standards for electronic stability. It's interesting with self-driving cars—there are several levels of autonomous vehicles and the first level is having these electronic stability controls which has been mandatory in all cars in the US since 2011.

That's an example where the government put something in place. Now we're dealing with vehicle to vehicle communication coordinating these vehicles, which is a shift from having technology in a bias to having a social network of things, really if you think about it. Not just an internet of things, but a social network of things where these devices have their own relationships that don't have to pass through a human user first. That makes the order of magnitude more complex. The USDOT did some projects around smarter cities and vehicle to vehicle communications and has spectrum allocated for that kind of radio communication and has been trying to engage with many stakeholders to help the process. Trying to bring drivers, automakers, OEM's,  and legislators together in a proactive process before law was set and before the technologies were fully introduced.

Now they are also making recommendations that in the very near term—the next two to three years I think—will have vehicle to vehicle communication transponders in every vehicle shipped in the US. You have to do a "yes, and" in this situation, and I think they learned some lessons around the politics of that and they’re wanting to make sure that people are able to engage in forms of consent and that the automakers and OEM's that are participating understand what the impact might be.

—MJ Petroni

MJ is the CEO and lead Cyborg Anthropologist at Causeit, Inc, a futurism and innovation consultancy guiding global leaders across the bridge from analog to digital. 

Cover image by greg westfall / CC BY