Spring Colloquium: Ryan Calo, UW School of Law

Robots as Legal Metaphors

 April 25, 2018 | 3:00 – 5:00 PM | CMU 126

This essay looks at the role robots play in the judicial imagination. The law and technology literature is replete with examples of how the metaphors and analogies courts select for emerging technology can be outcome determinative. For example, whether a judge sees email as more like a letter or a postcard will dictate the level of Fourth Amendment protection the court is prepared to extend it. But next to no work examines the inverse: when and how judges invoke metaphors about emerging technology when deciding cases about people. Robots represent an interesting case study. The judge’s use of the robot metaphor can be justice enhancing in that it helps translate obscure legal concepts like agency and fault into terms understandable to a lay reader. But the use of the metaphor is also problematic. Courts tend to apply the metaphor to remove agency from individuals whom society already tends to marginalize. Further, judges’ mental models of robots are increasingly outdated, which could lead to judicial error as advanced robots enter the mainstream.

Speaker Biography: Ryan Calo is the Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Associate Professor at the University of Washington School of Law. He is a faculty co-director (with Batya Friedman and Tadayoshi Kohno) of the University of Washington Tech Policy Lab, a unique, interdisciplinary research unit that spans the School of Law, Information School, and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. Professor Calo’s research on law and emerging technology appears or is forthcoming in leading law reviews (California Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, and Columbia Law Review) and technical publications (MIT Press, Nature, Artificial Intelligence) and is frequently referenced by the mainstream media (NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal).

Professor Calo has testified before the full Judiciary and Commerce Committees of the United States Senate and the German Parliament and has organized events on behalf of the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Obama White House. He has been a speaker at the President Obama’s Frontiers Conference, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and NPR’s Weekend in Washington. Business Insider named him one of the most influential people in robotics.