Who let the dogs out?

The year is 2020 and just when you thought this year couldn’t get any stranger the US Military have now gone and “released the hounds” (to quote Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns) albeit these hounds are robots!


Being a fan of both Sci-Fi and the ‘Terminator’ film franchise, I am well aware of the lessons and warnings to be learnt by the ‘rise of the machines’. However, I have followed with interest for several years now the work of ‘Boston dynamics’ from whom you can purchase a similar robot dog (presumably non weaponised) for the bargain price of approx. $75,000.00 each.

As a Claimant Solicitor who has successfully sued the Ministry of Defence following an animal related accident (John Doheny –v- Ministry of Defence (2011)) I am well aware of what is required to win those cases on behalf of injured Claimants.

In Doheny –v- MoD, a case involving a horse, the Claimant brought a claim on the basis that the Defendant (Ministry of Defence), had acted negligently including with their knowledge of the nature of that horse. Further, the Defendant was at all material times the keeper of the horse for the purposes of the Animals Act 1971 and was liable for the damage caused by it pursuant to section 2(2) of the Act. Under s.2 of the Animals Act 1971, s 2: ‘(2) Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if – (a) the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and (b) the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and (c) those characteristics were known to that keeper’.

Although I am not, for one moment, suggesting that these robot dogs will be classed as animals, in this new era where they are now deployed on at least one US Military base, and likely to cross the Atlantic, there are questions to ask: who is responsible for programming/updating the AI? What/where are the overlaps between operator, manufacturer, programmer? Who will record any malfunctions? What could be the consequences of any malfunctions or consequences of these robots going rogue especially when there may be no ‘characteristics’ as potential warning signs?!

We are of course witnessing ever increasing technological advances including self driving cars however if movie franchises have taught us nothing else then we should remember what happens when robots become self aware!

As we know, many things are ‘pawsible’ in Military accident compensation claims however it is clear that current laws/legislation may need to be updated to adapt to AI and we can expect new case law precedents to bet set hopefully from (human) lawyers in the future.

Simon Quinn, Partner & Head of Military, Hilary Meredith Solicitors Limited