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If you regulate it, they will come?

If you regulate it, they will come?

Parrish Miller
July 15, 2014
July 15, 2014

We've all probably heard the phrase, "If you build it, they will come." Unfortunately, the city of Coeur d'Alene seems to have misinterpreted that line as "if you regulate it, they will come." The City Council is considering new restrictions and regulations on ... wait for it ... robots! The driving force behind this idea seems to be city attorney Mike Gridley who says that if new regulations help "recruit more jobs to the area, then why not?"

Mayor Steve Widmyer is on board as well claiming that the "timing is great for the city to pass an ordinance" regulating robots. What these gentlemen seem to be forgetting (or perhaps ignoring) is that it is freedom—not regulation—that serves to create the most fertile breeding ground for innovation.

The celebrated economist Ludwig von Mises once observed, "The essence of an individual's freedom is the opportunity to deviate from traditional ways of thinking and of doing things. Planning by an established authority precludes planning on the part of individuals."

Some people are using the fear of drones (or unmanned flying robots, if you will) to rally support for these new rules, but Idaho already has a state law regulating the use of drones, so additional local regulation of the use of drones by private individuals is really unnecessary.

Idaho's existing law prohibits the use of drones "to intentionally conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record specifically targeted persons or specifically targeted private property" or "to photograph or otherwise record an individual, without such individual's written consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating such photograph or recording."

These protections are fairly robust, but leave room for hobbyists to use small drones or other robots to record a parade or other public event without having to seek explicit government permission. The new regulations proposed in Coeur d'Alene go much further and, due to an overly broad definition of "robot," could potentially criminalize even tripod mounted cameras that are controlled with a remote or security cameras that are motion-activated.

Unsurprisingly, the city also sees dollar signs and wants to implement mandatory licensing for any "robots" that fall under this broad classification. Will high-tech wheelchairs now require a robot license? They very well could if Coeur d'Alene persists in this unnecessary, preemptive assault on innovation and technology.

Regulating robots in Coeur d'Alene is not necessary, is not going to make the city more inviting to the robotics industry and is not consistent with the principles of liberty. All it really does is make the city look paranoid and obsessive. Let's hope that humanity develops some common sense before the robots become self-aware; otherwise they probably won't have anything to do with us.

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