Cognitive Liability?

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Tesla paid a high price in May, 2016, when a complex of issues involving its autopilot and vision functions—as well as driver overconfidence—caused the crash a Florida that killed one of its enthusiastic supporters and brought to the forefront the risk involved in operating a supposedly autonomous driving system that turns out not to be.

Beyond the obvious risk to life and limb, there lurks another unresolved issue that could turn out to be an equally important factor to the success of the new cognitive systems industry: that issue is liability, or, “who is responsible?” If the car (or the surgical assistant or the portfolio manager assistant etc.) is supposed to be the smart expert, making decisions that propel a process toward a successful conclusion, doesn’t the car itself at some point bear some of the blame when it smashes itself under a semitrailer? Can the manufacturer of the car claim that it is free of responsibility?

As the cognitive era gains headway, will we be able to continue on the path that the software industry has taken from the start—offering licenses that shift all liability to the user of the software?  Can the developer of the cognitive application sell, for example, a sophisticated cognitive assistant to professionals on a “buyer beware” basis? What happens when the cognitive tax specialist machine makes an error by misinterpreting or misapplying the tax code which results in fines or other fees to the customer? Will the human accountant ante up for the machine’s mistakes? Or take a more dramatic example: as the healthcare Internet of Things progresses, and we start to see surgical robots whose superb vision systems and minute precision of movement can help human surgeons reduce the risk inherent in complex surgical procedures, will the human surgeon ante up for the injuries to the patient caused by a suddenly jerky robotic hand? What happens when injured patients sue the surgeon AND the manufacturer because of a robot error? We don’t know the answers to these questions. But watch this space.


About the Author:

Hadley Reynolds is Co-founder and Managing Director at the Cognitive Computing Consortium. He is a leading analyst of the search, content management, and knowledge management industries, researching, speaking, and writing on emerging trends in these technologies and their impact on business practice. He currently leads the publications program at the Consortium.
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