When machines negotiate with machines

Novel Industry 4.0-Testbed clarifies highly topical legal issues

© Georg Borges
Prof. Dr. Georg Borges - Chair of Civil Law, Legal Informatics, German and International Business Law as well as Legal Theory and Managing Director of the Institute for Legal Informatics at Saarland University

The new dimension of the autonomy of machines and technical systems raises highly complex legal issues. In the "Industrie 4.0 Recht-Testbed" research project, Fraunhofer IML logisticians now simulate use cases with which lawyers of the Institute for Legal Informatics at Saarland University analyze and evaluate the relevant legal questions, not least with regard to questions of responsibilities and liability. Prof. Dr. Georg Borges, who is in charge of legal research, explains the main features of this unique interdisciplinary cooperation.

Research in Germany has achieved the technological breakthrough for the use of artificial intelligence in production and logistics and gave companies a head start in international comparison. Today, machines can communicate with machines and make decisions independently, i.e. without human input or manual intervention. One of the essential requirements of these technical systems and their basic technologies is to provide answers to the technological and legal challenges they pose. New technologies must be legally compliant and automated contracts must be legally secure and verifiable. Only then they will prevail.

The legal discussion on negotiations and contracts between machines has only just begun. The essential questions that arise in practice include, for example, the effectiveness of letters of intent concluded by machines or the verifiability of the services provided autonomously by them. In this context, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is fostering the "Industrie 4.0 Recht-Testbed", led by Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund as consortium leader. In addition to Fraunhofer IML, the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST, also based in Dortmund, Saarland University with the Institute for Legal Informatics and Ruhr University Bochum with the Horst Görtz Institute for IT Security back the project. In cooperation with the national platform Industry 4.0, the results will be made available to the entire economy. Especially for SMEs, a unique possibility is created to test the interaction of their own processes and systems in an industry 4.0 environment and to identify potential problems at an early stage.

In the testbed, engineers simulate negotiations and the conclusion of contracts made by machines. The scientists already demonstrated the technical feasibility in the past. However, according to the current legal understanding in Germany, machines are not carriers of rights and obligations and can therefore de facto neither conclude contracts nor assume liability. For example, to enable software agents in an industrial company to order replenishment for production independently, the responsibility for disruptions to processes (e.g. contract execution) and for causing damage and the resulting risks of liability must be clarified. The question of liability becomes particularly relevant when machines communicate with each other beyond company or country borders. However, cross-company, national and transnational networks are the future. For the first time, lawyers now evaluate the processes in the "Industrie 4.0 Recht-Testbed" on the basis of real use cases, point out legal uncertainties and give recommendations for action for the development of new legal standards. Within simulated court proceedings (mock trials), exemplary judgments are to be delivered.

The project should therefore result in very specific approaches and tools, model clauses and contracts. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular will be given a basis for better assessing legal risks arising from communication between machines in the areas of civil law and civil procedure law as well as IT and data protection law - as is the case today with contracts and negotiations between people.



Prof. Dr. Georg Borges holds the Chair of Civil Law, Legal Informatics, German and International Business Law as well as Legal Theory and Managing Director of the Institute for Legal Informatics at Saarland University.

The information technology law (IT-law) as well as the law of electronic commerce (e-commerce) are Prof. Borges’ main research subjects. Both of these legal domains have become independent fields of law over the years.