Is society ready for living in an autonomous world? Ready or not, it’s here. In fact, it’s been with us for a while. The better question for those of us in the insurance industry to ask is whether we’re ready for it. While society is getting acquainted with the advantages and the risks of piloting and adopting autonomy and its implications, we need to be ready to address the risks and liabilities associated with it.
As with all technological advances, before products and services hit the consumer market, they operate in some capacity in industry. The same is true with autonomous machines, artificial intelligence and robotic technology, which is already in play to varying degrees in logistics, construction, agriculture, professional services, manufacturing transportation—and of course the most widely talked about, self-driving vehicles. The rapid advancement of technology has been so pervasive that, in 2017, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) updated the industry classifications to incorporate the impact of industries engaged in the production of advanced technologies. So not ‘new’; just new to us.
Shifts and challenges
There’s no question that our clients are pioneering the use of advanced technologies such as robotics and autonomous machines. But there’s no denying that it presents a shift in liability and a challenge to our legal systems, which have historically focused on causation – what caused a third party injury, business interruption, etc., to occur and who is responsible.
Until recent times, machines have typically been built for a specific reason with a defined deliverable – a tool for a person to use. The machine was a “dumb machine” that could not learn from itself or from other machines. It had no level of personal accountability because it was incapable of any type of autonomous action. When there was a defect, it could generally be tracked back to either defective programming or incorrect operation of the machine. This allowed for an easier identification of liability when a machine malfunctioned.
Today’s “smart” or autonomous machines have the capability to learn from themselves or even other machines. The more autonomous they become, they act less upon preset instructions and more on a set of rules that may never have anticipated the specific circumstances under which the machine might actually be operating. This makes it more difficult to attribute their behavior to the human programming and design or to what the machine learns on its own.
Autonomous machines will challenge existing models of liability. Most of the world’s legal systems focus on causation when determining who is responsible for a loss.It will be increasingly difficult to determine if the design of the machine was responsible for the cause of loss or if the machine itself was the cause. This creates a gray area of liability, challenging our traditional coverages.
When we look at how the law interprets it, our clients who are working to advance an autonomous society, we see clearly the potential for elevated risk and runaway legal defense costs particularly from casualty and professional liability because they are intertwined in the manufacturing of the autonomous machine.
This is a new area for risk—and one that we, at XL Catlin, have been looking at closely.
Our exclusive, global multi-year partnership with Oxbotica (one of the world’s leading autonomy companies) and the DRIVEN consortium uniquely positions us to gain deeper insight and truly pioneer the evolution of insurance and new capabilities to help innovators, businesses and individuals thrive in an autonomous world.
Just this April, DRIVEN successfully completed its first public demonstration of the capabilities its fleet of autonomous vehicles has to interact and ‘talk’ to each other. In the future, they will share data and information back and forth so each vehicle is able to plot more effective routes, avoid potential hazards, and anticipate conditions more effectively. The trials now taking place in and around Oxford – and ultimately on roads and inner city environments between Oxford and London – will also give us the opportunity to create a risk assessment tool to enable the user of the autonomous vehicle to make decisions about what level of autonomy and speed is appropriate for a wide set of driving conditions.
Oxbotica, along with the UK government which is offering grant money to stimulate development of new autonomous technologies, are asking all the right questions. What are the liabilities? What do we need to be thinking about as a government? What risks do we need to worry about controlling? Where’s the separation of public and private data amassed by these ‘machines’? This kind of collaboration, development and experimentation is both exciting and tells us it’s where we need to be as an organization.
And in fact we are already insuring an autonomous pilot project currently underway at London’s Gatwick Airport. The pilot is testing a fleet of autonomous vehicles to transport staff around the airport’s airfields. Currently, no passengers are involved in the pilot. The pilot is intended to demonstrate that autonomous vehicles can work safely in a complex environment, like an airport, where a wide range of different vehicle types operate in all directions, on and off road systems.
We truly believe that, not only will autonomous technology fundamentally change how the world will move people and goods over the next 20 years; it’s going to improve safety, increase mobility and transform lives, businesses and public services. Just think of the advantages:
It’s estimated that there were 40,000 traffic deaths in 2017 due to vehicular crashes at the hands of human operators. This statistic -could be drastically reduced with AVs and, what’s more, we can actually extend mobility to a segment of our society who currently cannot drive because of a disability.
In 2016, OSHA reports there were 4,693 worker fatalities, and 2.9 million nonfatal private industrial and manufacturing workplace injuries and illnesses. Consider the potential of the safety improvements autonomy can bring to high hazard activities; For instance, online retailers and supermarkets are increasingly turning to more automated, “dark” warehouses, a term used for a storage facility that does not require the use of lighting for normal operation. Cold storage or freezer warehouses, such as those used in the food and beverage or pharmaceutical sectors, are particularly suitable to ‘go dark,’ requiring less people to work in adverse conditions like sub-zero temperatures.
Understandably there is some skepticism as to what this will mean to the workforce and jobs. Autonomy will redistribute and redefine the types of jobs and skills needed, and challenge us all to create new business models and provide support to reskill workers. A 2017 study by Intel and analyst firm Strategy Analytics forecasted that the new wave of autonomous technology could add up to $7 trillion in additional economic activity by 2050. Likewise, NAICS’ updated classifications acknowledge the importance of these electronic industries, their rapid growth over the past several decades, and the likelihood that these industries will, in the future, become even more important in the economies of the US, Canada and Mexico.
Changing how the world moves
Undoubtedly, autonomous robotic technology, and autonomous vehicles in particular, will fundamentally change how the world moves people and goods over the next 20 years. And the potential is big. Autonomy has the potential to greatly improve safety, increase mobility and transform lives, businesses and public services.
Because we believe so strongly in the societal good of advancing autonomy, we, at XL Catlin, challenged ourselves to develop an insurance solution to support the greater adoption of autonomous technologies, particularly in insuring pilot projects that are helping pioneer autonomous technology in business and industry.
We have learned, working with some of these early adopters, that while there are no two similar uses of autonomy and each requires a tailor made approach, there is a real need for a structured solution spanning our expertise across multiple classes of insurance. As a result, we’ve launched an initiative to provide tailored, multi-line coverage for the risks associated with designing, developing, testing and implementing autonomous systems.
As more of our clients start incorporating autonomous technologies into their operations, in one form or another, we’ll be ready. For autonomy to advance there has to be companies willing to take on the risks of autonomous technologies, especially as they evolve. It’s an assumption o f risk faced with challenges about conventional concepts about liability and causation.