For the last decade or so, most of the ‘new’ legal challenges facing the IT industry have been driven by the Internet, mobile and cloud computing technologies that have altered almost every aspect of society. One of the key areas is in the field of privacy and data security. For larger technology companies, securing and protecting data are key competitive advantages, and privacy and data security are now commonplace on the corporate risk agenda. Another area is in the field of intellectual property (particularly, copyright and file sharing). These issues have created friction with existing laws and regulations, and have highlighted the fact that many laws/regulations have not kept pace with technological development.

Further, with the advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), the questions and issues will become far more complex and challenging. The widespread distribution of robotics in society will, like the Internet, create deep social, cultural, economic and, of course, legal tensions. The potential benefits (and indeed risks) are immense, and many far exceed what we currently consider as even remotely possible.

The law assumes, by and large, a dichotomy between a person and a thing, yet robots increasingly blur the line between person and machine. If a truly sapient machine could be created, then questions as to legal rights and liabilities of such sapient machines inevitably arise. For example, the concept of mens rea (Latin for 'guilty mind') is a fundamental element in criminal law - could AI challenge that application?  Further, should / can sapient machines own property and have other civil rights?  Would owning a truly sapient, self-aware, robot be tantamount to slavery? The TV series Westworld springs to mind...

Perhaps some of these ideas might seem far-fetched, and whether you find it fascinating or terrifying (or both), progress in robotics and related fields like AI is raising new ethical conundrums and will undoubtedly challenge laws that were created for a world in which man is separate from machine.