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A federal regulatory commission for robotics could be the next FTC

A report from the Brookings Institute claims that innovation within the robotics industry could lead to the formation of a new government entity: the Federal Robotics Commission.

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Much like birth of radio spurred the creation of the Federal Communication Commission, Ryan Calo, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, posits that innovation within the robotics industry could very well lead to the formation of a government entity charged with leading the complex legal and regulatory environment surrounding artificial intelligence.

In a report for the Brookings Institute, Calo makes his case for the hypothetical Federal Robotics Commission, in which he outlines the responsibilities that the FRC would execute.

For instance, the hypothetical FRC could potentially channel funds into robotics research, advise other agencies like the DOT on robotics matters (and driverless cars), and advise lawmakers on robotics law and policy.

Yet Calo stresses that the institution he envisions would not regulate robotics in the sense of creating and enforcing rules regarding their use, rather it would take on a more advisory role "that touches upon the unique aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence and the novel human experiences these technologies generate."

He goes on to say:

The alternative, I fear, is that we will continue to address robotics policy questions piecemeal, perhaps indefinitely, with increasingly poor outcomes and slow accrual of knowledge. Meanwhile, other nations that are investing more heavily in robotics and, specifically, in developing a legal and policy infrastructure for emerging technology, will leapfrog the U.S. in innovation for the first time since the creation of steam power.

Among the robotics technology that Calo singles out within the report, several have key real-world implementations that are being spearheaded by today's tech juggernauts. Driverless cars, which are being built and tested by Google, represent a huge area of unknown challenges, which, when combined with mass human interaction, could warrant strict government regulation.

And then there are drones, which both Amazon and Google have turned to in hopes of making mass same-day delivery a reality across America. Calo says drones will not only catalyze a national conversation around technology and privacy, but that they'll also exist beyond the realm of expertise of the FAA: 

FAA policy toward commercial drones has been roundly criticized for being arbitrary and non-transparent, including by an administrative law judge. Here, again, the agency's lack of experience with robotics — including what should or should not be characterized as a robot — may be playing a role.

For now, however, the FRC obviously remains a hypothetical.