In May 2013, Defense Distributed, an online open-source organisation, released a plan called ‘The Liberator’ on the Internet. The plan allowed the manufacturing of a 3D-printable, single-shot handgun. Over the next two days, it was downloaded more than 100,000 times. The US Department of State demanded that the plans be removed from circulation. This gave rise to a particularly complex legal case. Five years later, coincidentally again in May, an Uber self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The car was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash. This accident raised several questions about the safety of autonomous cars. It ultimately led to the temporary suspension of testing.

These events show clearly that disruptive innovations have unpredictable consequences. When we innovate, we cannot predict the future uses of our own innovations. Disruptive technologies are a prime example: they affect established business models and settled social norms. The political responses are controversial. The question faced by society is whether and how to regulate disruptive innovations. The question grows more pressing as the pace of innovation accelerates. The European Journal of Risk Regulation recently published a symposium on ‘Regulating the Risk of Disruptive Technology’. This symposium seeks to provide a snapshot of the current debate on technological regulation. What is at stake is the choice of regulation for a dynamic socio-economic environment.

After a short introduction, (Kołacz and Quintavalla), this symposium reflects on specific instances of technological disruption. In particular, the contributions aim to provide guidance to those regulators who have to respond to disruptive innovations. The symposium focuses on 3D printing (Kołacz, Quintavalla and Yalnazov; Heine and Li), autonomous cars (Kołacz, Quintavalla and Yalnazov), short-term letting platforms (Wells), artificial intelligence (Buiten) and technological innovation in the context of animals (Lansink). The tentative recommendation is that consideration of the social impact of new technologies is key to adequate regulation. Thus, whether disruptive innovations require new norms depends on the regulator’s understanding of the technologies, as well as on the ability of jurists to position new social phenomena within old legal categories.

The EJRR symposium on regulating the risk of disruptive technology is available free until 10 July 2019.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *