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Tag: law in literature

Nanavati v. Maharashtra, the sensational true case behind Rustom (2016)

The Nanavati Trial-Cover Image-01

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Rustom, released today, is Akshay Kumar’s latest movie. You probably know that it is based on a true story, but do you know the details of the sensational trial on which it is based? The real story is far more explosive and dramatic than any fictional film could possibly be.

K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra had all the elements of a thrilling potboiler but it involved real people and events. The cast of the actual case became more famous than movie stars – not just K.M. Nanavati, Sylvia Nanavati, and Prem Ahuja, who were involved in the actual incidents, but even those involved in the subsequent trials, including Y.V Chandrachud, Karl Khandalavala, and Ram Jethmalani. Moreover, the case became forever etched in the legal history of India as the last jury trial held in the country.

Join us as we delve into the events, personalities, and the unbelievable twists and turns of this true story that probably became the first instance of a trial by media in India. With the help of Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and legal historian Kalyani Ramnath, we explore how this case has affected the way we deal with circumstantial evidence, what “grave and sudden provocation” means, the Governor’s power to grant pardons, and much more. We also ask the big question: Should the jury trial be brought back?

Written by myLaw

Brajesh Rajak’s Join The Bar: A Tale About Three Law Students is a good summer holiday read

“Here he met the love of his life. She was standing beside the Aquaguard machine holding a notebook in her hands. He stood frozen when his eyes stuck on her glowing heart shaped face. Her long black harried hairs covering her mango shaped head were trying to avoid persistent twirling by her fingers while simultaneously making an attempt to come in front of her fabulous forehead. Sudden eye contact with her irresistible luminous dark black eyes left Raj with a feeling of pain equal to hundreds of heart attacks…

“Her jaw widened and a stunning smile spread over her ruby-red lips. Suddenly all the lights in library were switched on. She raised her golden palm to cover her face as the direct lights of a bulb and tube light from the left corner of the room converged on her face. She hastily uncovered her face, narrowed her model eyebrows and lowered down long eyelashes on her nimble eye-lid in the direction of her nifty looking but small nose. A sound resembling a well-acquainted word echoed in Raj’s ears when she opened her mouth and transpired something that broke the barricade of her brilliant white teeth. He rewound his memory and closely examined many suggestions for that resembling sound and concluded that the sound was nothing but ‘Hi’. He looked at her pink skirt then her blue top with red straps that was beautifying the extremely fair colour of her skin. Then he ignited his tongue with full throttle and threw some sound with thrust out of his mouth. The sound was incomprehensible but received a smile in response.”

Suddenly, Universal Law Publishing Company Private Limited is my favourite publisher.

With editing credits to “my friends Abhijeet and Pranav”, this treasure of prose contains (as of page 11) an account of Raj leaving his teacher “without any come-back” on his second day of class with: “So, you accept that becoming a law professor is your objective ‘need’ and not ‘want’, a deficiency of which would lead to a clear negative outcome such as not to be able to maintain your family properly. If you accept that, then you should also accept that even if we cannot buy, run and save the world, we are entitled to join law school and study law to satisfy our integral human needs”; a schizophrenic attempted-suicide; and scathing indictments of teaching seminars, “In-Batch ragging”, and the C.L.A.T.  Brajesh Rajak (a student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore) has penned Join the Bar, the expose in which you will find many gems such as the ones mentioned above.

Not that Bar! The Moot Court Hall at NLS, Bangalore.

Not that Bar! The Moot Court Hall at NLS, Bangalore.

The language and style of prose of the aforementioned excerpts remain consistent through the 190 pages of the book, at approximately five hundred words-per-page. The editing remains thoroughly entertaining at any given point. Unfortunately, the plot twists are alarmingly intricate, and the characters-with-more-facets-than-a-demigod-yet-befuddlingly-alike will take some getting used to. But the hard work that has been put into the writing is also evident. If you have been a student of a certain “national Law School” in the past ten years, incidents will jump out at you once every ten pages, such as:

‘Yaar! We are in big trouble now. Dev is fighting with some people here. Raj is trying to stop him. A boy has just threatened us that he would return with some more people to beat us up.’ Mani came out of his room, as the voice was not clear due to network problem. He asked Mohnish, ‘where are you?’ Mohnish, who was as scared as a goat on the eve of Bakrid, completely forgot that the residents of that area used to hate it when someone referred to that area as Pakistan, inadvertently replied, ‘Pakistan.’ He shouted enough to make his voice audible to Mani.”

To be fair to the book, it gives representation to some of the causes and grievances that have arisen in minds at the National Law School, though the remedies shown implemented in the book are unimaginative, even ludicrous at times.

Basically, I love summer holidays even more now. And that’s exactly what this book is for: a good holiday. So if you don’t have one ahead, steer clear of the book. But if you do, or you’re planning one, I’d totally recommend it to you. Going through it armed with the knowledge of the author and his circumstances is exquisite joy. It’s even worth the nostalgic five-pages-at-a-time perusal of those good ol’ days, and the amount of fun you had mocking the views of those undeserving juniors. Flipkart stocks it, and for Rupees 168, will deliver in three days.

(Srinivasan Gowrishankar is a fellow with Teach for India. His favourite Beatles’ songs are Sexy Sadie and Lovely Rita, in that order.)

You can pick up Brajesh Rajak’s Join The Bar: A Tale About Three Law Students An Encounter With Life (sic) from Flipkart here.

 

 

 

Written by myLaw

Lawrence Sanders’ McNally books – One never knows, do one?

Hot, unbearable May is when you want to lie in the shade with a tall, cool drink and a novel that’s not too taxing to read—something light, fluffy, with the texture of a rather well-made croissant. You could do worse than Lawrence Sanders’ McNally books. They’re not even a little thought-provoking, but they sure are fun. The books star Archibald McNally, scion of the McNally family, son of the famous and wealthy lawyer, Prescott McNally of McNally and Co., Attorneys, resident of Palm Beach and thirty-seven-year-old boy-detective. He took up discreet enquiries after being expelled from Yale Law School for streaking across stage during a performance of the New York Philharmonic, wearing nothing but a Richard Nixon mask. Returning in disgrace, but still the proud possessor of an original Mickey Mouse watch, he dabbles through high society in Palm Beach, Florida, a slave to a good mystery, but mostly to women. “Like most men,” confides Archibald to his diary, “my life is often a contest between brains and glands. And you would do well to bet Grey Matter to place.”

Indeed, the preliminary McNally novel begins with the immortal line, “Archy, can’t you be serious?” He can’t. It’s not in his nature. He has two passions in life—his clothes, which are usually insane, and his work, the department of discreet investigations, housed in a closet in his father’s office. Archy McNally wanders, in his plum-coloured tasselled loafers and his gabardine suits, through high society, uncovering unpleasant facts and resolving nasty little mysteries of the wealthy, and occasionally, the beautiful. As he explains, “…it was my task to conduct investigations requested by our moneyed clients who didn’t wish to consult law enforcement agencies and possibly see their personal problems emblazoned on the covers of those tabloids stacked next to sliced salami in supermarkets.” Sometimes his friend, the largely incompetent heir to a fortune, Binky Watrous, assists him. At other times, his romantic escapades attract the ire of Consuela Garcia, his off-and-on girlfriend, who appears, at the very least, to be a better sleuth than him.

The McNally novels are best read for the entertaining characters. These are not densely plotted, tricky, and complicated detective mysteries. Archy’s detecting is done mainly over sumptuously lunches at the Penguin Club, a disreputable organisation with excellent food that he helped to set up, or in the shade of coconut trees with a cool drink in hand. He networks with people he knows—Al Rogoff, the big burly cop who secretly loves ballet, Lolly Spindrift, the pansexual gossip columnist, and Jamie Olson, his taciturn but well-connected cook, and then locks together a sensible solution to the problem at hand. In McNally’s Secret, he explains, “I can’t glance at a man and immediately know he’s left-handed, constipated, has a red-headed wife, and slices lox for a living. I do investigations a fact at a time. Eventually they add up – I hope. I’m very big on hope.”

Indeed, the mysteries that he faces usually range from uncovering adultery, to provenancing a fake Faberge egg, murdered pet parrots, to uncovering shady investment advisors who are trying to bankrupt wealthy old women. He does his investigating in perfect couture, lavishly described in his diary-record of investigations—in McNally’s Risk (1994) he steps out to locate a missing portrait in a “pale pink linen suit with a deep lavender polo shirt of Sea Island Cotton, tasselled loafers without socks…”. Archy McNally is a bon vivant, a man who would be comfortable in an Oscar Wilde subplot, or at dinner with Bertie Wooster, sipping champagne, eating lobster, solving mysteries.

Image above is from Dave-F's photostream on Flickr.

Image above is from Dave-F’s photostream on Flickr.

Lawrence Sanders is better known for his gruesome mysteries, featuring as much dismembering, sexual assault and violence as is possible without having the books banned in most countries. In the McNally series, though, he’s engaged with a simpler task, to elegantly, skilfully display his skills as a writer and a humourist, without putting his readers to much effort in deciphering mysteries. You read the books for the sly wit, the sumptuous descriptions, because you want to be sitting by the pool with ladies named Cynthia Horowitz, sipping martinis at three in the afternoon and dabbling in investments. These are books where he can shamelessly say things like, “I disrobed in my adytum (there’s a lovely word; look it up!)” or “It was truly a psittacine supermarket, with one glassed-in corner apparently devoted to the grooming and treatment of birds with the sniffles”—books that are light, fluffy, beach reads, an opportunity to enjoy the slick elegance of wordplay, and wholly disregard plot and pace. Try them. You might like them. As Archy says, “One never knows, do one?”

(Raeesa Vakil is an ardent student of law and the seamy side of popular culture.)

Written by myLaw

Modesty Blaise’s remarkable contribution to the spy thriller genre

Peter O’Donnell’s most famous character, Modesty Blaise is better known for being the titular character of an enormously successful comic strip that was launched in 1963. The success of his strip prompted O’Donnell to novelise his character through eleven novels, beginning with the imaginatively titled ‘Modesty Blaise’ in 1965. All the novels centre around Modesty Blaise, who was marketed at the time as the female James Bond. The similarities between the Modesty Blaise novels and Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories are quite striking.

Pieces of Modesty, a collection of short stories by Peter O'Donnell featuring his heroine Modesty Blaise, was first published in 1972. The photograph above is from cdrmmbuks' photostream on Flickr.

Pieces of Modesty, a collection of short stories by Peter O’Donnell featuring his heroine Modesty Blaise, was first published in 1972. The photograph above is from cdrmmbuks’ photostream on Flickr.

Modesty is introduced to the reader as an incredibly wealthy and refined ex-criminal who has recently retired at the age of twenty-six from her life of crime. The novel begins with Sir Gerald Tarrant, a senior British Civil Servant trying to procure her services for a special job. Tarrant reveals that Modesty was a refugee in a displaced persons camp in the Middle East. At the age of seventeen, she took over a small gang in Tangiers and transformed it into a powerful worldwide criminal organisation. The reader is told that she steered clear of unethical fields such as protection rackets and prostitution, and took special care to avoid hurting the interests of the British.

Tarrant knows where Modesty’s trusted partner Willie Garvin is being held and about to be executed in an African republic. He intends to blackmail her to enlist her co-operation, but at the last minute, he changes his mind and gives her the information without asking for anything in return. Modesty is impressed and wonders how he knew that she hates blackmail but is a compulsive payer of debts. Modesty and her equally unique sidekick Willie Garvin are extremely unusual characters, but they are nonetheless deep and convincing. Willie is a cockney with a vast array of talents, incredible reflexes, and incredible strength; who had been crippled by a lack of self-belief and direction until he met and started working for Modesty.

Modesty and Willie manage to make James Bond look like an amateur. They are almost unbelievably adept at an incredible range of things. They are both experts in almost every conceivable form of combat, as well as being exceptional polyglots, athletes, gymnasts, technological experts, con artists, and masters of disguise while also having an almost telepathic understanding between each other. Modesty and Willie are both exceptionally sneaky and creative in dangerous situations. Both have a quirky sense of humour, as shown by Willie who ditches a man who is pursuing him by surreptitiously emptying a bottle of itch-causing spirits on the seat of his scooter, and watches with amusement as the man struggles to control himself and eventually jumps off the scooter, rips off his trousers and desperately jumps into the sea.

The novel follows a fairly generic plot, with Modesty and Willie being enlisted to protect a shipment of diamonds belonging to Sheikh Abu-Tahir, a Bedouin tribal leader who had taken Modesty in for a while when she was a young girl. Modesty and Willie are captured by a gang of international criminals (led by the mastermind Gabriel), which plans to steal the jewels. They then have to battle their way out of a hidden monastery, fighting their way through Gabriel’s sidekicks using their unique skills. Notably, in this and every other Modesty Blaise novel, Modesty and Willie are captured by the villains or allow themselves to be taken in and subsequently find ways to escape; a plot device which is also found in every single James Bond novel. That is not to say that the plotting is bad, merely that is not particularly remarkable or noteworthy.

The generic nature of the plot and the action should not be viewed as drawbacks however; within the realm of spy-thriller fiction, it is never the quality of the plot that determines success but rather the quality of the writing and the appeal of the characters. Modesty Blaise is successful here. O’Donnell successfully injects humour and wit throughout the novels and even where the humour is coarse or slapstick, the subtlety is found in its conception if not the execution. Like every good thriller, Modesty Blaise is perfectly paced and manages to avoid the long boring lulls between periods of action that plague many second-rate thrillers. The combat scenes are very well written and built up to and are as good as any I have read.

Written in 1965, Modesty Blaise is far ahead of its times in terms of presenting a heroine who may be soft and feminine when not in action, but is incredibly tough and entirely capable of dismantling hordes of villains with ease. O’ Donnell stays away from all stereotypes while developing the character of Modesty. Though she was raped when she was young, her reaction to the event is not stereotypical. She does not become fearful or submissive towards men, but she doesn’t hate all men or behave in an anti-social or distrustful manner towards them either. Despite her utterly unique and harsh upbringing where she was forced to fight for everything, she manages to be extremely cultured and refined, and separates her professional character (where she is incredibly dangerous, sneaky, cold, and calculating) from her normal self (where she is incredibly generous, relaxed, and friendly).

Modesty does live up to the ‘female Bond’ tag in that she is extremely active and open about her sexuality and has many sexual partners, all of whom she feels genuine affection for, but it is nonetheless impossible to imagine her remaining in a committed relationship. Even her lover in the novel, the macho guy Hagan, recognizes that she will eventually move on but is content with enjoying her presence while he can. This is uncannily reminiscent of the treatment and outlook of the various ‘Bond girls’ that are the most famous features of the James Bond series.

In the end, nothing in either this novel or the series that follows it is particularly unique. The sheer quality of writing however, and the quirky appeal of its characters—even the side characters are constructed and depicted with great care—ensure that Modesty Blaise is a great read; entertaining and engaging while speaking out in forthright manner for gender and racial equality. This novel and the series it is part of, were an excellent addition to the development of the spy-thriller genre.

(Prabhat Kiran Mukherjea, a.k.a. Baba, is a graduate of the N.L.S.I.U, Bangalore and, after having worked at a major F.M.C.G. company, is now a full-time writer.)

Written by myLaw

Meiville, Umberto Eco, and the solving of fictional crimes

Sometimes the only thing to be done about life’s circus is to ponder implausible and ingenious murders. This April, flush with agonising deadlines, I spent most of my spare time with detective novels. I picked my way between discarded and dismembered bodies, chased the red herring, and mocked the witless criminal. The deaths were as various as they were gruesome, ranging from garrottes to guillotines. Long exposure, however, renders most things mundane and, by now, my memory of the Perfect Crime is more catalogue than chronicle. How many times have I seen the passionately bludgeoned blonde, the coldly poisoned patient, and the attic painted in blood?

Bodies popped up in most unexpected places, and I accompanied my devious detectives into dingy theatres and aboard dubious dinghies. I explored the seedy side of San Francisco with Sam Spade and the bowels of dastardly London with Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Dalgleish. Colin Dexter’s donnish Oxford lent itself easily to the erudite Inspector Morse’s investigations; Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn was never more comfortable as in a country manor. With Brother William, in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, I boldly re-entered the fiendish Finis Africae. It was a long way, thus, that I traversed to meet Inspector Borlù, of the Bész Extreme Crime Squad. Together, we spliced together the superimposed cities of Bészel. Together, we Breached.

Lord Peter Wimsey (who ought to know) observed that in crime novels virtue is ever triumphant. However wretched the wrongdoing, however unlikely its redressal, one can rest assured that the wily sleuth will unlock its machinations, blame the guilty, and avenge the innocent. They use assorted methods to achieve this: the famed Holmesian deduction, Poirot’s ‘grey cells’, Morse’s eye for lexical oddities. Wimsey himself, that ‘chattering icicle in an eyeglass’, deploys buffoonery and the brilliant Bunter. There are, of course, moral ambiguities aplenty—remember the harrowing finale in Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon? Otherwise an impeccably genteel book, so full of good humour and romance, it ends on a sombre note, with the execution of Wimsey’s cleverly caught criminal.

There are fewer legal ambiguities in the solving of fictional crimes: the police are benevolent, if not always competent; laws are reasonably evident and neither obscure nor vague nor contradictory. Humanity is generally forthcoming with information. Illegality is known, understood, and noted. To be sure, there are the bad districts, where crime is rife upon the land. There are the border professions—prostitution, drug possession, and smuggling—illegal, not always ‘criminal’. By and large, however, crime novels are stable ecosystems, and the people within them share a consensus on what is punishable, and to what degree.

China Miéville at a reading of one of his books. Image above is from Loz Flowers' photostream on Flickr.

China Miéville at a reading of one of his books.
Image above is from Loz Flowers’ photostream on Flickr.

In China Miéville’s The City & The City, it is this categorisation of ‘crime’ that comes under the scanner. The novel begins conventionally enough, with a young woman found murdered on the mean streets. Rapidly, however, we find that her environs are as bizarre as her body is banal. She inhabits a city-state split down the middle by the cities of Bészel and Ul Qoma: separated by the vicissitudes of history and conjoined by those of geography. The Bész and Qomans studiously ignore one another, despite living, as they do, on top of each other.

The consequences, for the fan of the crime novel, are farcical: all that perfectly good evidence lying about with no one to notice! Millions of potential witnesses to any crime erased out of time and memory! Neighbours governed by entirely different laws and procedures! The inhabitants of Bészel take our very human tendency to ignore the unsavoury to resplendent heights, to the point where it could almost be a crime novel set in the Real World. This entire active unseeing and unhearing is policed by a liminal, horrifying entity known only as Breach, which ensures that imaginary barriers are respected.

In Borlù’s world, it is not murder but Breach that is the ultimate crime, and it lies outside his jurisdiction. He discovers that his victim—whose name is the subject of many obscure puns, so perhaps we could just call her Bait—has been murdered with the aid of such trespassing, and is determined to ‘invoke Breach’ to see her avenged. Ultimately, Borlù joins Breach, committing what only days earlier would’ve seemed to him fell heresy. The cities (to his vision, anyway) blur. Along the way, he chases what starts off a mystery and tails off into a conspiracy, neither of them particularly convincing. Indeed, plot-wise, this is Miéville’s weakest novel, with none of the grand flourishes and quirky characters that make his worlds such vital places. There are no pirates, no garudas, not even a giant cephalopod. The City & The City is a pure idea novel, with the breathtaking genius of its device overtaking all its (many) defects.

The City & The City is an uneven enterprise, though it is to Miéville’s credit as a writer that he makes the basic premise—the alter-cities—so accessible. After the first part of the book—where the fantastic topology of the cities is laid out—one drifts at ease between Bészel and Ul Qoma, almost as puzzled as Borlù whenever their boundaries are at risk. At the mention of a possible third city, Orciny, this reader was as convinced as any other citizen of the twin cities that it had to be a phantasm bred from superstition.

Yet, if superstition, custom, and language can breed one set of blind divides within a population, why not another one? Why not millions of them? Why not proclaim that each city has multitudes hidden within it, with fragile alleys connecting that which can be known from that which can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t be known? If a society can construct its own worst crime – leaching the criminal law of all justifications as a ‘natural’ or ‘moral’ law – what does that imply for our own system of values? Why is it murder that we fear most, not torture or rape or impoverishment? It is because such a death can seemingly strike at random, while most violence visits those already ‘othered’ by the law?

Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose is the urtext of the detective novel. Image above is from Ross Angus' photostream on Flickr.

Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose is the urtext of the detective novel.
Image above is from Ross Angus’ photostream on Flickr.

To be fair, this is not a question unique to Miéville. Great novels destabilise their genre, and crime fiction is no exception. The urtext of the detective novel, Eco’s Rose, asks the same questions The City & The City does, if with far more subtlety and depth. Rose, Eco’s first novel, is set in a medieval abbey, and contains all the great controversies of its age and locale: the distinction between blasphemy and heresy; the limits of ‘secular’ force; the mushrooming of Popes; the defiance of the Divine Order implied by human laughter and the use of human reason. It also ponders the social origins of crime, and agrees that we punish only that which we legislate in the first place. This it does in the midst of a plot so devious, conversations so learned, and circumstances so historic, to make the book an education each time one reads it.

The difference between the two books, and where Mieville unquestionably ‘wins’, is the potency of his breach (if one can be forgiven the pun) into our world. The City & The City veritably screams the question of how Bészel/Ul Qoma are so different from the bustling metros of our world. Our cities might not be shattered as unequivocally, yet they possess deeper instincts for demarcation than we admit. We all observe ‘crimes’- eve teasing, theft, exploitation, child labour- as we go about our daily life, yet we so rarely remember or report them. It is the plentiful clues and helpful witnesses of crime novels that make them such elegant whodunits; in real life, as in Miéville’s book, the more noticeable a particular crime, the less punished it is.

(Nandini Ramachandran is a graduate of the N.L.S.I.U., Bangalore and blogs at Chaosbogey.)

Written by myLaw

Asimov’s three laws are part of humanity’s answer to questions thrown up by technology

By Abhishek Shinde

Isaac Asimov, painted on a throne with symbols of his life's work, by Rowena Morrill. Image above originally published on Wikipedia.

Isaac Asimov, painted on a throne with symbols of his life’s work, by Rowena Morrill.
Image above originally published on Wikipedia.

No discussion on science fiction can be complete without the Three Laws of Robotics of Isaac Asimov, considered by many to be the father of hard science fiction. They are one of the most common themes running through science-fiction writing – especially when dealing with the subject of robots.

The Three Laws of Robotics (“the Three Laws“) are:

1.    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.    A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.     A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

While the Three Laws are quite evidently rudimentary in nature – Asimov was no lawyer after all – many ethicists and roboticists accept them as starting point for discussions on the applications of artificial intelligence and on governing the conduct of robots towards humans.

Image above originally published on Max Kiesler's photostream on Flickr. Image published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Image above originally published on Max Kiesler’s photostream on Flickr.
Image published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

The Three Laws are believed to have their genesis in the general expectations about human behaviour. In one of his short stories, Evidence, Asimov expounds on this through the protagonist, pointing out that humans are typically expected to refrain from harming one another – the basis for the first law. With reference to the second law, humans are generally expected to obey authority figures such as the police, judges, and ministers, unless obeying them would conflict with the first principal of not harming another human. Lastly, humans are not expected to harm themselves, except perhaps when sacrificing themselves in pursuit of the first and second principles. Note that when it comes to humans, none of these are set in stone. Society always accepts certain exceptions – such as military men killing other military men during wars and conflict, or people refusing to follow orders when such orders are blatantly immoral, or in the case of euthanasia, which is now legal in several jurisdictions. When it comes to machines however, there is a clear moral ambivalence, some would say even fear, about imbuing them with free will beyond a point.

The Three Laws can only serve as a foundation. Indeed, it is sometimes said that they are already obsolete. Asimov himself demonstrated twenty-nine variations in his writing and even propounded a Zeroeth Law, which would override the three other laws. Rules always follow the advent of technology – and we are only at the beginning of imagining, let alone understanding, what we are capable of in terms of creating machines that today look like Honda’s Asimo or Sony’s Aibo (now discontinued) but that someday may look like us, talk like us, and act like us.

Sony's Aibo. Image above originally published on meddygarnet's photostream on Flickr. Image published under a Creative Commons Attritbution 2.0 Generic License.

Sony’s Aibo.
Image above originally published on meddygarnet’s photostream on Flickr.
Image published under a Creative Commons Attritbution 2.0 Generic License.

New challenges will come to light, especially given that some of the most promising developments in robotics are taking place under military control – the United States’ military plans to have a fifth of its combat units fully automated by the year 2020 – where the Three Laws are not likely to find much purchase. There is no doubt however, that the creators of robots with military applications will likely build in some level of protection for their users and compatriots – imagine the hullabaloo if an autonomous machine were to lead to American casualties. Another very practical challenge is posed by the use of robotic assistants for the elderly, a field of engineering being pioneered in Japan due to its rapidly-ageing population. Last month, Google announced that it had launched a fleet of automated cars that had driven 1,40,000 kilometres across California with minimal human intervention; and they had been involved in only one minor accident – the Google car was rear-ended by another human-driven one. Liability will be a major issue – an autonomous machine programmed with the ability to learn from its circumstances – who is responsible for its actions: its owner, user, or creator? Or will the machine itself someday be recognised to have rights and responsibilities?

Image above originally published on salimfadhley's photostream on Flickr. Image published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Image above originally published on salimfadhley’s photostream on Flickr.
Image published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

It is believed by many religionists that god shaped humans in his image. Though I am not one of them, it is only natural that as humanity seeks to build more complex machines and ultimately artificial intelligence, we shall seek to imbue our creations with our sense of right and wrong. At it most fundamental, law is a means to determining right and wrong – to encourage the right, but mostly to deter or punish the wrong. As we embark upon the path towards a future where we might not be the only self-aware, sentient beings, it is important to remember the fundamental questions and conflicts thrown up by the march of technology – and to answer them to the best of humanity’s ability. As lawyers, we need to work closely with scientists and engineers working in robotics, to enable humanity to navigate these tumultuous waters.

 

Written by myLaw