Lawyers speak of machine-to-machine contracts here, which in addition to the aforementioned reordering, also play an important role in predictive maintenance concepts. But let’s just stick to the refrigerator, which has sensors, RFID, and cameras, and therefore always knows which products have expired or are running out. The refrigerator then automatically orders fresh butter, sausage, and vegetables from an online retailer, and has it delivered to your home. Watched in slow motion, the following happens: The fridge says I need 2 liters of milk, the retailer’s chatbot says OK you’ll get 2 liters of milk, which is delivered and then charged via a payment service. Everyone is happy.
For us lawyers, this is a process that we can’t explain. That’s why we examine the facts in every last detail as to understand what’s actually happening. Through this magnifying glass, the given situation plays out as follows: The refrigerator is now ordering, for whatever reason, 20,000 liters of milk, and the chatbot is perfectly fine with that. It organizes 20,000 liters of milk and then charges everything again via the payment service. You now have 20,000 liters of milk in your kitchen and ask your lawyer how to get out of that mess.
The problem is that for centuries, we have had a constant when it comes to law: people enter into contracts. This is the law. A contract consists of two corresponding declarations of intent made by different persons. Of course, these persons can also be a limited liability company or a corporation. But nowhere is there anything about refrigerators, robots, Kanban systems. Or machine-generated declarations of intent – because we currently assume that a refrigerator has no will of its own, and therefore can’t declare intent; no matter which data records are pushed back and forth.
This can have strange outcomes: For example, in high-frequency trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, all transactions are printed out at the end of the day and signed manually – to at least maintain the fiction that the will of a person is behind it all. The whole thing has nothing to do with stable legal certainty.