In 2020, technology continues to evolve at a record rate and convert the dreams and notions of 1950s sci-fi movies into reality. As novel, modern, emerging technologies bring a new generation of products and devices, they also bring further opportunities for design and manufacturing defects, as well as any ensuing product malfunction or misuse.
The agriculture, communications, data management, IT, healthcare, and transportation industries have implemented and utilized autonomous, artificially intelligent, and self-learning technology, especially in the field of robotics. In theory, these technologies provide social and economic benefits such as improved safety and increased productivity and efficiency. In practice, these technologies may fail and perform as unintended by increasing human error and failure, as well as any danger associated with the risk of product use.
Technological advancements especially affect the Internet of Things, the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items utilizing electronics, software, and the capacity for connectivity. This network allows the collection and exchange of data, thereby increasing our ability to directly integrate the physical world into a computer-based system. IoT items include smart appliances, self-driving cars, thermostats, medical devices, heart monitors, alarm systems, fire sprinkler systems, and other wearable devices.
Many issues related to privacy, safety, and product liability issues emerged at a public hearing held on May 16, 2018, sponsored by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The product liability issues associated with IoT devices relate to vulnerability issues when the product’s underlying software is hacked, malfunctions, or improperly updates.
As a result, these product malfunctions may cause bodily harm, contusion, laceration, shock, falling, tripping, fire, burn, chemical exposure, and, in extreme circumstances, death. These types of issues have already surfaced with medical devices manufactured and sold by MedTronic in 2004, 2012, and 2016 where software errors allegedly caused overdoses, injuries, and death to patients. Cardiac devices designed to prevent heart attacks have also experienced similar issues.
The CPSC hearing revealed that there are currently 8.4 billion connected things and 5 billion consumer applications as of 2018. This number was projected to double by this year! The problems, and ensuing litigation, related to these new technologies are also certain to increase. Any existing shortcomings in the current product liability system and its adequacy to facilitate new and emerging technologies will certainly be exposed in the near future.
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