UW News

April 3, 2015

R2-D2 to driverless cars: UW conference to explore gray areas in robotics law

Final_We_Robot_Keynote_Lecture_April_10_2015Robots such as household helpers, driverless cars and personal drones are — or will soon be —available to consumers. But what protections guarantee they won’t spy on us or surreptitiously sell us things? Could a robot be used to verify an alibi in a criminal court case? Who is liable if a driverless car crashes into a person?

We Robot 2015, a conference being held April 10 and 11 at the University of Washington School of Law, will explore these multiplying gray areas in robotics law, policy and ethics and how emerging technologies are disrupting existing regimes. The free conference is open to the public, but advance registration is required.

The fourth national annual conference will feature presentations from leading academic researchers, discussions with industry experts and robotics demonstrations from UW research laboratories. Tony Dyson — the man who built R2-D2 for “Star Wars,” oversaw special effects for “The Empire Strikes Back” and builds robots for the world’s largest electronics companies — will deliver Friday’s 7 p.m. keynote lecture.

A complete schedule of events is available here and presentation details are here.

We Robot 2015 will build on existing scholarship that explores how the increasing sophistication and autonomous decision-making capabilities of robots and their widespread deployment in homes, hospitals, public spaces and battlefields requires rethinking existing legal and policy structures.

“This is a moment in time when we’re starting to figure out the right legal and policy frameworks to guide this innovative and transformative technology,” said We Robot co-founder Ryan Calo, UW assistant law professor and co-director of the UW Tech Policy Lab.

“We have to get this right because people will not adopt technology that they’re afraid of or that they fear has no limits.”

The event convenes engineers, roboticists, communications researchers, philosophers and ethicists, as well as legal experts in fields ranging from cyberlaw to medical malpractice to labor law.

Discussion topics include:

  • How should we regulate technologies like personal drones, driverless cars and surgical robotics?
  • How might the Federal Trade Commission develop consumer protection regulations for household robots that perform domestic tasks, engage autistic children or help stroke patients exercise?
  • How do robots in the workplace complicate existing labor and employment law?
  • As teleoperated robotic systems allow surgeons to perform operations or ordinance experts to disable bombs from halfway across the world, how do you know the person on the other end is qualified?
  • What security protections prevent someone from hacking into an eldercare robot and gathering financial information about its owner?
  • What design aspects cause people to see robots as humanlike entities that deserve our trust, rather than as devices or tools?
  • What are the legal and ethical issues involving implanted neural devices that automatically provide therapy for movement disorders and other neurological conditions?
  • How might cloud robotics be stymied by international trade law?

“This conference is very exciting because it brings together those who are making and designing robots with those who are addressing the legal framework in which they will operate,” said co-organizer Howard Chizeck, UW electrical engineering professor and co-director of the UW BioRobotics Lab.

“Because laws, regulation and policy often lag behind new technology, We Robot can help to anticipate and resolve these important legal, social and ethical questions.”

For additional information, contact Emily McReynolds at emcr@uw.edu or 206-512-5698.