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Environmental Science Major
Robots; Are They as Scary as We Think They Are?
Industrial robots. They are one of the construction industry’s newest developments. They may seem like a gift from the Gods in regards to construction site safety, efficiency, and accuracy, but is it possible that these robot might not be all they live up to. When we look at society’s view of robots in general, we get some pretty mixed reviews. One of the easiest ways to dissect our collective view on robots is to see our responses to them in media. For example, in movies, like “Transformers” or “The Iron Giant”, robots are depicted as misunderstood heroes. The robots are helpful or surprisingly charismatic, giving us a positive depiction of them all around. When we look at other movies in the robot category, like “Ex Machina” or “The Terminator”, we are given a very different message. The robots produce a risk to the humans around them. They create a fear among members of our society about robots and their ability to cause danger. Entertainment is just one way that we can see society’s confusion about robots and artificial intelligence. While it may be true that industrial robots can and do have a positive impact on human safety, increasing their prevalence in the construction industry could lead to a variety of legal confusion due to the philosophical questions their advancement begs.
First, we will start with the facts. Robots can and have been proven to have a largely positive impact on construction sites. One of those impacts being an increase in human safety. According to the CDC “Robots can improve worker safety by doing work that is especially dangerous. They remove the worker from the hazard. For example, robots can inspect offshoreoil rigs while people remain safely on shore” (CDC 2021). When it comes to construction, there are certain tasks that may put workers at risk, whether that be inspecting oil rigs, working at large heights, or even the use of dangerous chemicals or material. The functioning of our society is reliant on these tasks getting done, but why do we need a human to risk their life in the process? This is where robots come into the picture. They allow us to put a machine, which can be repaired or replaced, in a the position of a construction worker, who is not fortunate enough to have that immortality in the case of an accident.
Along with human safety, robots can be an asset to the modern day construction site in that they have the ability to increase efficiency and accuracy. We see this in the “SAM System”, a specific robot used to assist with brick laying. It “is intended to work with a mason in order to reduce costs, increase productivity and increase the quality of work” (Jones 2022). The robot, which is more accurate and efficient than a human, works to make the construction move at a faster rate, as well as reducing overall costs. Brick laying is not the only tasks that robots can help with, as their quick skills can be applied to lots of different jobs.
After hearing these reasons, robot advancement may seem like a given. They can provide many benefits to the construction industry, including reducing human risks and increasing efficiency and accuracy. It may seem like a simple solution to put robots in the place of humans, but the advancement of construction robots, as well as robots in general, may pose many legal issues. When we take a look at the current laws and policy regarding robots, we don’t see much. Besides potential new laws proposed by scientists, authors, and other members of the general public, we seem to lack actual policies surrounding these new advancements. This lack of existing law creates a lot of questions for our society. Who is at fault when a robot injures a human? If there is a construction accident that involves a robot malfunction, who do we blame for the injuries or damage sustained? Do we blame the manufacturer? The scientists behind its development? The owner of the robot? Who is responsible for robot upkeep? What about who has access to this technology? Is it dangerous to make this information available to the public, or is it wrong not to? Can we patent new technology used in robot creation? What about, damaged robots? How do we dispose of them? Can they be reused?
Will this cause environmental damage? What about human jobs? Will robots eventually leave many construction workers unemployed? At a point, our questions start to become philosophical. We start to ask ourselves deep and trying questions that we may never know the answer to. For example, at what point does a robot become a human? If the robot were to develop feelings, a conscious, free-will, and much more, will we give it the same rights we give humans? And if we continue to technologically advance robots, at what point do we stop? Is all technological advancement valuable? Would having a robot who is more intelligent and more capable than any other human to exist be a benefit or a danger to society? Should such robots exist alongside us? Will robots interfere with our right to privacy? How can we be so sure that our personal data is not being stored against our will?
While it will likely be decades before our society is tasked with answering these questions, it is worthwhile to dissect them now. The future of construction accident and injurylaw is uncertain in relevance to robots, but without a doubt, the advancement of such technologies is likely to complicate it. Movies, like “The Terminator”, may seem like silly examples as to why we should be vary about robot development and advancement, but they posean interesting question: At what point do robots go too far?
Electricbloomhosting. “Robotics: The Legal Issues.” BIM+, 23 Apr. 2019, https://
Jones, Kendall. “Robots Are Coming to the Construction Site.” ConstructConnect,
Construction Project Management Software, ConstructConnect, 14 June 2022, https://
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Robotics and Workplace Safety.” Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Mar. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/newsroom/feature/robotics-workplace-safety.html.