William D. Smart on ‘What do We Really Know About Robots and the Law?’

William D. Smart

William D. Smart

We Robot is a gloriously multi-disciplinary conference. Legal and policy scholars discuss current and future robots and robotics technologies, and offer sage advice about how to legislate them. Roboticists talk about current and future legal and policy structures, and hypothesize how these might interact with the underlying technology. Ideas flow back and forth, and we make concrete steps towards understanding how law, policy, and robotics interact, both today and in the years to come.

Or do we? How much do legal and policy scholars know about real robots, and the technology that goes into them? How well do roboticists understand the law and how it works? The frank answer to both of these questions is “not as much or as well as they should”.

This paper provides the results of a survey taken at We Robot 2013, designed to assess how well me know each others’ fields of expertise. We Robot participants were invited to answer a set of questions to determine how well they understood the basics of robotics technology and some of the legal issues surrounding it. Participants self-identified as either a roboticist, a legal scholar, a policy scholar, or “other” and gave some basic demographic information. The paper gives an analysis of the results of the survey, highlighting some interesting trends. Without giving the game away, none of us knows as much as we think we do, and there’s still a lot of work to be done to educate each other, and to really understand the basics of each other’s fields. This is, however, vital for the long-term success of both We Robot and the ideas on which it is founded.

In addition to presenting the results of the survey, the paper identifies some key areas where we can make progress in educating each other, and provide some concrete suggestions for how to do this. The ultimate goal of this paper is to scare everyone just a little bit, but then to provide a ray of hope for the future. If we know where our own shortcomings are, we can work to directly address them, and to make sure that, when we are caricaturing our colleagues’ areas of expertise, we are at least 80% right.

William D. Smart will present What do We Really Know About Robots and the Law? on Saturday, April 2nd at 4:30 PM with discussant Ian Kerr at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center in Coral Gables, Florida.

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