Could the International Criminal Court prosecute Ultron for Crimes Against Humanity? Could Ultron be tried in any Court?

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner created Ultron in Avengers Age of Ultron. Ultron attempted to “kill” the computer program Jarvis and then the Avengers shortly after being activated.

Ultron’s following actions range from ripping Ulysses Klaw’s arm off to trying to crack every nuclear code on the planet to attempted genocide all human life.

Could a robot be prosecuted for this long list of crimes?

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Ultron is “Artificial Intelligence” gone on a killing spree. Case law examples of AI include “expert system,” which are “are a class of computer programs that were first developed in the 1960’s. They seek to emulate the decision-making of human experts in a field of expertise (e.g. chemistry, medicine, geology). An expert system stores knowledge obtained from human experts in a ‘knowledge base.’” Vehicle Intelligence & Safety, LLC v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130809, 5-7 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 2014). A “decision module” inference engine is “programmed to selectively apply expert rules stored in the knowledge base in order to resolve problems.” Id.

Ultron is significantly a higher level of “Artificial Intelligence” than we have in the real world. Ultron invaded the Internet and downloaded himself into multiple bodies, which he could transfer his programming between at will.

Ultron’s plan included launching Sokovia into orbit and dropping the city back on Earth, effectively creating an asteroid strike similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. This plan targeted the citizens of Sokovia to use their city as a weapon, which obviously would displace the citizens of the ill-fated city state.

The Geneva Convention prohibits signing parties to treat non-combatants to hostilities humanely. 1949 U.S.T. LEXIS 484, 3-4. Moreover, acts such as violence against people, murder of any kind, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture are also prohibited. Id.

There is a significant problem with attempting to prosecute Ultron under the war crimes statute: Ultron is a computer program and does not belong to a country that signed the treaty.

Ultron did purposefully kill or attempt to kill numerous human beings. Bringing traditional murder charges against Ultron are problematic, because a PERSON is guilty of murder when someone intentionally causes the death of another. NY CLS Penal § 125.27. Or as defined at common law, murder is defined as the “killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” See, Black’s Law Dictionary App, 9th Edition.

Whether or not Ultron is a “person” defines whether or not he can be charged with murder (or attempted murder, or attempted genocide, or mutilation, or torture, or kidnapping).

An area of law that gives guidance on “personhood” is whether or not computer-generated information is “hearsay.” Here is what one Court said about Artificial Intelligence and hearsay:

The initial question is whether information observed on a computer screen, generated not by a human source but setting out the results of a computer program in analyzing data, is hearsay. Rule 801 defines a “statement” as an oral or written verbal expression, or as the nonverbal conduct of a person if intended by the person as a substitute for verbal expression. TEX. R. EVID. 801(a). Arguably, this should constitute such a statement. When the rules were written, computers were not capable of performing such analysis and at most would have provided raw data which would have to be analyzed by a human. Now, the computer program performs the analysis and a human only looks to see what result the program has reached. If the result shown is not the one desired, the human does not perform an independent analysis, but looks for different ways to apply the program to the problem. Under this scenario, there is arguably a statement being made-just not by a human-but by an artificial intelligence.

Without going into the details of this type of analysis, however, as pointed out by the State, several courts of appeals have held that computer-generated information, whether on a display or paper, is simply not hearsay because it falls outside the strict language of the rule. This position is defensible and is apparently the sole position taken in Texas to date for materials not input into a computer and simply printed out, but that result from analysis done by the computer. The statement by Marshall was not hearsay.

Taylor v. State (Tex.Ct.App. 2002) 93 S.W.3d 487, 507-508.

Ultron is way beyond a computer screen displaying information. There is an argument that Ultron had a body, had emotional reactions, and as such he statements were more in line with being human opposed to merely Artificial Intelligence. However, there is the basic fact that Ultron is a robot and not a human being.

Could a Court find that Ultron’s “statements” were by a “person”? Maybe. Could a Court also find that Ultron was a “person” under the law? Not by a strict reading of the law.

If Ultron was not a “person,” then there was no issue with destroying each Ultron drone. As Ultron was not a “person,” there was no duty to attempt arrest of a killer robot.

Now, whether or not the Vision and Scarlet Witch getting married is an advanced retelling of the Pygmalion myth is a tale for another time.

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