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We Robot 2015


Recently I attended We Robot hosted by the UW School of Law. It was a blast with every talk covering interesting issues and raising discussion between experts in multiple fields. I’m going to highlight two talks that I think especially interesting from a legal perspective. Those talks were Legal and Ethical Issues in the Use of Telepresence Robots and Unfair and Deceptive Robots.


First off is the discussion Friday afternoon on the paper Legal and Ethical Issues in the Use of Telepresence Robots: Best Practices and Toolkit. I recommend reading the paper, the content is a smooth read and only a dozen pages. It should take 10 minutes tops, unless you follow up on the citations.


To set the groundwork, telepresence robots are robots that users can access remotely they can sense and interact with their environment to give their users agency. They are often the rough size and shape of a human to help people present interact with them as though they were there in person. Despite this the presence of another person present to serve as a mediator was required to get people to treat the robot as a person, though with wide spread use and more anthropomorphic bodies this may change. The talk explored some of the implications of someone potentially working through a Telepresence robot across borders. Another issue is how to deal with the fact that a telepresence robot can easily have superhuman senses and how that would impact a reasonable expectation of privacy. We probably won’t see any immediate changes in the nonprofit legal sector but in the near future it’s reasonable to expect to see firms with a dispersed clientell to use telepresence to save their lawyers the time and expense of travel. Most likely it would be telepresence robots located in libraries, they are ideal in location and mission.


Following that Saturday morning we discussed Woodrow Hartzog’s paper Unfair and Deceptive Robots. Hartzog’s thesis is as more robots come into use by consumers in the form of self driving car, drone, household helpers, and the like the risks the consumer will be exposed to. And the best agency to deal with those risks is the FTC. We explored some of the ways that we are already dealing with similar issues with spambots and the risk of a hacker accessing out personal information and how these issues are going to be amplified in the future. Talk then turned to how the FTC is good at fostering new technologies with a light hand, the internet being a prime example. A secondary theme was that the presentation and reception of a technology can be more important than the technology itself. While there are differences fundamentally Google Glass and the iPhone do the same thing, however received radically different receptions.


One of the final talks I also want to mention was the panel Robot Economics which featured Colin Lewis, Andra Keay, Garry Mathiason, Esq. There was a lot of talk on how how robots are going to impact the workplace and how that would ripple out to the rest of the economy. Of particular note the legal profession is going to change quite a bit in the not so distant future. Automation is already eating away at some of the drudge work with e-discovery, in the future we can expect lawyers to be able to spend a lot more time working on the complex and legally interesting problems while leaving the bulk of the rest of the work to machines.


More information about the participants as well as the papers and panels can be found at