Category Archives: Talks & Conferences

I’m on the Drone Law Today Podcast

DroneLawTodayToday’s Drone Law Today guest is … me.

Professor Froomkin Talks Drone Law

Hello, Drone Law Nation! In this episode, we speak to Professor Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami School of Law. Professor Froomkin is a leading scholar on “drone law” and robotics. He is also the founder and chair of the We Robot academic conference.

We Robot will be hosted by Miami Law in April, 2016. The call for papers is out! Head over to the We Robot site for attendance information and for more on how to apply to be a speaker or presenter.

Listen in to hear Professor Froomkin’s take on federal and state drone law, self-defense against robots and drones, federal preemption, and a whole lot more.

You can hear the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher.

Update: Thanks to Steve Hogan, the host of Drone Law Today, here are links to a direct download mp3 and to the Libsyn site with the show notes and embedded player for those of us on Android and PC without iTunes or Sticher.

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We Robot 2016 Call for Papers & Participation

We Robot 2016We invite submissions for We Robot 2016 to be held in Coral Gables, Florida on April 1-2, 2016 at the University of Miami School of Law. We Robot–the premier US conference on law and policy relating to Robotics that began at the University of Miami School of Law in 2012, and has since been held at Stanford and University of Washington–returns to Miami Law April 1st-2nd in 2016. Attendees include lawyers, engineers, philosophers, robot builders, ethicists, and regulators who are on the front lines of robot theory, design, or development. The main conference will be preceded by a day of special workshops (see below). The conference web site is

We Robot 2016 seeks contributions by academics, practitioners, and others in the form of scholarly papers or demonstrations of technology or other projects. We Robot fosters conversations between the people designing, building, deploying and using robots, and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate. We particularly encourage contributions resulting from interdisciplinary collaborations, such as those between legal, ethical, economics, or policy scholars and roboticists.

This conference will build on the growing body of scholarship that explores the increasing sophistication and decision-making capabilities of robots, in collaboration with humans and autonomously, and the increasingly widespread deployment of robots everywhere from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, to the battlefield. All of this disrupts existing legal regimes or requires rethinking of various policy issues. This year the program committee is especially interested in papers that discuss issues relating to the deployment of robots in positions that put them in direct contact with people, but as always we remain open to cutting-edge works on any topics fitting within our larger mission. Surprise us. Educate us. We’re listening.

This year’s conference will involve several types of presentations and events. We Robot is organized as a primarily single-track event. Thus, although each type of presentation has its own “track” for submission and evaluation, the actual conference will consist of a mix of each of the following sequentially rather than simultaneously:

1. Scholarly Papers. Topics of interest for the scholarly paper portion of the conference include but are not limited to:

  • The impact of robots on the jobs, the economy, and the workforce.
  • Comparative perspectives on the regulation of robotic technologies.
  • Assessment of what institutional configurations, if any, would best serve to integrate robotics into society responsibly.
  • Effects of employment of autonomous weapons in the military or law enforcement contexts.
  • Regulatory issues raised by the deployment of robotics, including in medicine, in the air (drones), and on the roads (autonomous cars).
  • The impact of human enhancement via robot components, and the need for policy, legal and regulatory structures that address these developing technologies and resulting ethical and social issues.
  • The impact of artificial intelligence on civil liberties, including sexuality, equal protection, privacy, suffrage, and procreation. Standardization issues, especially as they relate to issues arising from related disciplines such as ethics, psychology, or law.

These are only examples of relevant topics. We are very interested in papers on all topics driven by actual or probable robot deployments. The purpose of this conference is to drive a research agenda relating to the deployment of robots in society, to inform policy-makers of the issues, and to help design legal rules that will maximize opportunities and minimize risks arising from the increased deployment of robots in society.

How to Submit Your Proposal for a paper. Please send a 1-3 page abstract outlining your proposed paper, and a C.V. of the author(s) via the conferencing system at Please do NOT put any author identifying information on the proposal itself, as we have moved to a system of anonymous reviews this year. Please be sure to choose the “paper” track for your upload. Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

2. Discussants. We also invite expressions of interest from potential discussants. At We Robot, authors do not present their own papers. Every paper accepted will be assigned a discussant whose job it will be to present and comment. These presentations are very brief (no more than 10 minutes) but they are a critical part of the conference. Authors will then respond briefly (no more than 5 minutes). The rest of the session will consist of a group discussion about the paper moderated by the discussant.

How to indicate your willingness to be a discussant. Please send a short note telling us why you are interested and your C.V. via the conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “discussant” track for your upload. Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

3. Demonstrations. Unlike scholarly papers, proposals for demonstrations may be purely descriptive and designer/builders will be asked to present their work themselves. We’d like to hear about your latest innovations, what’s on the drawing board for the next generations of robots as well, or legal and policy issues you have encountered in the design or deploy process. Bring your robot if you can!

How to pitch a demo. Please send description of what you have or are doing, with links to any relevant photos or audio visual information, as well as your C.V., via the We Robot 2016 online conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “Demo” track for your upload. Please include a brief description of what facilities and resources your demonstration might require (e.g., power, internet connection, space). Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

4. Poster Session. We Robot will have our first-ever poster session this year in order to accommodate late-breaking and cutting edge projects. This session is ideal for researchers to get feedback on a work in progress. At least one of the authors of each accepted poster should plan to be present at the poster during the entire poster session on the afternoon of April 1, 2016 and for a “lightning round” of one-minute presentations during the main session. We believe this Late Breaking Results Poster Session will be a great addition to We Robot and we strongly encourage you to submit your interesting new work to this session.

How to propose a poster session. Please send an up to 400 word description of what you have or are doing, with links to any relevant photos or audio visual information, as well as your C.V. via the conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “Posters” track for your upload. Submissions open January 15, 2016 and are due by March 8, 2016. We’ll accept poster proposals on a rolling basis. Remember, at least one author of an accepted poster must register at the conference to submit the final version.

5. Special Workshop Sessions. On March 31, We Robot will host four workshops designed by experts to help people from other disciplines get up to speed in their specialty. We hope these workshops will be attended by people who want to learn about the topics, and by people willing to share their expertise with both experts and neophytes.

  • Juris Machina: Legal Aspects of Robotics, organized by Woody Hartzog
  • Electronic Love, Trust, & Abuse: Social Aspects of Robotics, organized by Kate Darling
  • “The Robot Revolution has been Rescheduled (until we can debug the sensors)”: Technical Aspects of Robotics, organized by Bill Smart
  • Funding the Future: Financial Aspects of Robotics, organized by Dan Siciliano

How to participate in a workshop. All that is required is to sign up when registration opens October 1, 2015, and before it closes in late March 2016. The sessions will be held consecutively, so you can attend one or all.


As noted above, proposals for papers, discussants, and demos will be accepted at starting October 1, 2015 and are due by November 1, 2015. See for further information. We anticipate having responses by December 4, 2015. Full papers will due by March 1, 2016. Authors retain full copyright but they grant us permission to post the paper on line at the conference web site and to distribute copies.

Proposals for the poster session open January 15, 2016 and are due by March 8, 2016.

Registration for We Robot 2016 will open October 1, 2015. Look for the early bird registration rate.

Funding for Participants

We anticipate paying reasonable round-trip domestic coach airfare and providing up to two nights hotel accommodation for one presenter per paper and demo, and also for discussants. For speakers based outside North America we will provide up to $750 towards the cost of your international airfare, plus we will provide two nights hotel accommodation. We are seeking funding sources to contribute to the expenses of poster session presenters, and to provide scholarships for graduate students, so please watch our web page for more information.

Printable .pdf version of We Robot 2016 Call for Papers

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Into the SOUPS

soupsI’m off to Ottawa for the 2nd Annual Privacy Personas and Segmentation (PPS) Workshop which is being held in conjunction with the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS).

The organizers selected me to give the keynote for the workshop, and I’ve produced a provocation for them. Here is the introduction:

Users are notoriously bad at safeguarding their online privacy. They do not read privacy policies, which in any case are mostly contracts of adhesion. They make over-optimistic assumptions about protections and dangers.[15] They use weak passwords (and repeat them), accept cookies, and leave their cell phones on thus facilitating location tracking, which is vastly more destructive to privacy than almost any user grasps. [8] Contrary to Alan Westin’s privacy segmentation analysis [31], most privacy choices are not knowing and deliberate because they are not within the user’s control (e.g. surveillance in public). Other ‘choices’ happen because users believe, correctly, that they in fact have no choice if they want the services (e.g. Google, mobile telephony) that large numbers of consumers consider necessary for modern life. [27]

The systematic exposure of the so-called “privacy vulnerable” user [27] suits important public and private interests. Marketers, law enforcement, and (as a result) hardware and software designers tend towards making technology surveillance-friendly and tend towards making communications and transactions easily linkable.

If we each have only one identity capable of transacting–even if it is mediated through multiple logins–and if our access to communications resources, such as ISPs and email, requires payment or authentication, then all too quickly everything we do online is at risk of being linked to one master dossier. The growth of real-world surveillance, and the ease with which cell phone tracking and face recognition will allow linkage to virtual identities, only adds to the size of that dossier. The consequences are that one is, effectively, always being watched as one speaks or reads, buys or sells, or joins with friends, colleagues, co-religionists, fellow activists, or hobbyists. In the long term, a world of near-total surveillance and endless record-keeping is likely to be one with less liberty, less experimentation, and certainly far less joy [16] (except maybe for the watchers). In a country such as the US where robust data-protection law is deeply unlikely, a technological solution is required if privacy is to continue to be relevant in the era of big data; one such, perhaps the best such, technological improvement would be to create an IMA designed to give every person multiple privacy-protective transaction-empowered digital personae. Roger Clarke provides a good working definition of the “digital persona” as “a model of an individual’s public personality based on data and maintained by transactions, and intended for use as a proxy for the individual.” [4]

Whereas Clarke presciently saw (and critiqued) the ‘dataveillance’ project as being an effort to create a single, increasingly accurate, digital persona connected to the person, the objective here is to undermine that linkage by having multiple personae that would not be as easy to link to each other or to the person.

(Updated to correct link to workshop.)

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Link to My Paper

I neglected to link to Lessons Learned Too Well: Anonymity in a Time of Surveillance, the paper I’m presenting at #yalefesc. A very very small number of people will recognize this as a partial redraft of a paper I started a few years ago, but never published because it didn’t seem quite right. My plan is to get it as right as I can in the next few months, which is why I’m workshopping it.

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Important Memo to Self

Next time you stay in a hotel that has a notice like this one on the bedside table… IMAG0095use the earplugs.

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Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference

I’m in New Haven for the Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference, which uses the wonderful workshop format we adopted for We Robot. The author of the paper being workshopped doesn’t present – the discussant starts by summarizing the paper, which all the attendees are presumed to have read. The author gives a brief response, and it is off to the races.

I’m in the usually unenviable first-thing-Sunday morning slot, the one where you compete with exhaustion (and hangovers) but I actually think that at FESC first-on-Sunday is better than last-on-Saturday, as there is a very very long program.

I am not a core first amendment scholar, not at all, although my work on anonymity obviously intersects, which is why I’m here. It’s very interesting to see the things that concern people who focus on the First Amendment these days; it’s a very different set of concerns from what there was say ten years ago. I learned a lot from reading the papers (or, rather, the fraction of the papers for the sessions I plan to go to – there are three parallel ones in most time slots). Plus I get to meet a lot of new people, more than I do at Internetty events, maybe even more than robotty events now that I’ve been to a bunch of them.

It’s always slightly odd to be back in New Haven, where I spent first four and then later three years. The city is much more cheerful (it helps that its Spring, while memory has a strong overlay of February). There’s been a great deal of turnover in the shops, with many of the small places I liked gone, and a number of chain rather chichi clothing and such shops replacing them. A mixed blessing at best.

And, coming from Miami, almost everyone on the street looks a bit pale.

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The Rise of Robot Governance

With R2D2's Creatornet.wars: Multiplicity has the best write-up of We Robot 2015 that I’ve seen yet.

My favorite quote:

[David] Post led the discussion to broader questions: if you’re going to intervene in the development of new norms and law, when do you do it? How do you do it while remaining flexible enough to allow the technology to develop? Particularly with respect to privacy and teens’ willingness to share information in a way that scares their elders, “Could we have had that conversation in 1983?”

This is the heart of We Robot: the co-chairs, Michael Froomkin and Ryan Calo run the conference precisely to try to get ahead of prospective conflicts. So Froomkin’s answer to Post’s question was to note that being “in the room” matters. Had “just one lawyer” been present when engineers were creating the domain name system its design could have been different because that lawyer would have spotted the issues we have been grappling with ever since. “People with different backgrounds and perspectives spot problems,” he said, “and also solutions.” And, he added, those changes are easier at the beginning, when there’s less deployment and less money invested.

And yes, as I said at the conference, one of the main things I’ve learned from 15+ years of Internet policy research is that ‘Who is in the room’ when decisions are made is about as important as anything else.

(The photo is of Tony Dyson, the designer of the original R2D2 (top left), and two other happy happy conference-goers.)

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