Ultron has no strings on him, but Tony Stark and Bruce Banner certainly are tangled up in liability for building genocidal Artificial Intelligence.
Stark and Banner had the goal of putting a suit of armor around the world. However, the end result did not go according to plan. What would be their liability?
Ultron arguably is a product based on unknown alien technology (an Infinity Stone). The purpose of Ultron was to protect humanity. One theory for victims of Ultron to sue Stark Industries, the Avengers, plus Tony Stark and Bruce Banner individually, would be on products liability.
In New York state, a manufacturer is strictly liable for injuries for a design defect where:
(1) That at the time of the occurrence the product is being used…for the purpose and in the manner normally intended;
(2) That if the person injured or damaged is himself the user of the product he would not by the exercise of reasonable care have both discovered the defect and perceived its danger; and
(3) That by the exercise of reasonable care the person injured or damaged would not otherwise have averted his injury or damages.”
Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co. (1983) 59 N.Y.2d 102, 106-107.
Plaintiffs can also argue that a product is defective because of a mistake in the manufacturing process, improper design, or because of inadequate warning. Id.
Traditional products liability analysis goes out the window because Ultron is not like a saw that cut off someone’s arm, but an intelligent robot that decided to destroy humanity. Without engaging in a discussion of whether Ultron qualifies as a human being, his actions are self-directed based on independent thought. As such, no one is “using” Ultron like a product. Would that independent thought cut the strings of product liability?
One argument would be to sue Stark and Banner for improper design. They used an Infinity Stone they did not fully understand, thus could not design a safe global security product. However, a stronger argument can be made that the use of the Infinity Stone was not of just improper design, but strict liability for engaging in an ulta-hazardous activity.
Tony Stark admitted that he was a “mad scientist” and Banner should embrace it. This statement shows a strong desire to engage in inherently dangerous activity. In New York (and many other states), one who engages in inherently dangerous activities is held liable without fault for injury caused to a neighboring property with or without trespass. Continental Ins. Co. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. (App.Div. 1994) 624 N.Y.S.2d 335, 336. The traditional example is using TNT to blow up a tree stump, which then lands on a neighboring house. Furthermore, being a government contractor engaged in public work does not provide it immunity to liability. Id.
A court could easily find that conducting experiments with alien technology that can control human minds to build weaponized Artificial Intelligence would be an ultra-hazardous activity. The fact Ultron goes on a global murder-spree to create an extinction level event only shows how inherently dangerous it was to experiment and create Ultron. As such, the issue is not one of foreseeable harm from negligent conduct, but one of strict liability for Ultron’s destruction in South Korea, Africa, and Sokovia.