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In Frontiers in surgery

Background : Advances in machine learning and robotics have allowed the development of increasingly autonomous robotic systems which are able to make decisions and learn from experience. This distribution of decision-making away from human supervision poses a legal challenge for determining liability.

Methods : The iRobotSurgeon survey aimed to explore public opinion towards the issue of liability with robotic surgical systems. The survey included five hypothetical scenarios where a patient comes to harm and the respondent needs to determine who they believe is most responsible: the surgeon, the robot manufacturer, the hospital, or another party.

Results : A total of 2,191 completed surveys were gathered evaluating 10,955 individual scenario responses from 78 countries spanning 6 continents. The survey demonstrated a pattern in which participants were sensitive to shifts from fully surgeon-controlled scenarios to scenarios in which robotic systems played a larger role in decision-making such that surgeons were blamed less. However, there was a limit to this shift with human surgeons still being ascribed blame in scenarios of autonomous robotic systems where humans had no role in decision-making. Importantly, there was no clear consensus among respondents where to allocate blame in the case of harm occurring from a fully autonomous system.

Conclusions : The iRobotSurgeon Survey demonstrated a dilemma among respondents on who to blame when harm is caused by a fully autonomous surgical robotic system. Importantly, it also showed that the surgeon is ascribed blame even when they have had no role in decision-making which adds weight to concerns that human operators could act as "moral crumple zones" and bear the brunt of legal responsibility when a complex autonomous system causes harm.

Jamjoom Aimun A B, Jamjoom Ammer M A, Thomas Jeffrey P, Palmisciano Paolo, Kerr Karen, Collins Justin W, Vayena Effy, Stoyanov Danail, Marcus Hani J


autonomous, liability, public opinion, robotics, surgery