Official ‘We Robot 2012’ Press Release

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI SCHOOL OF LAW ANNOUNCES ROBOT CONVENTION Gathering of robot designers, developers and policy wonks

CORAL GABLES, FL (March 14, 2012) — Robots are the next Internet. Eventually, they could be everywhere — in the air, on battlefields, in hospitals, even in your bed. Robots will help capture criminals, take care of the elderly and drive your car.

Like the Internet, their widespread use will bring social and economic transformations. But robots will pose dangers, because in one important way, robots are not like the Internet: They interact directly with the material world. They can and will hurt people — either accidentally or deliberately. “Think of a robot as an iPhone with a corkscrew and a chainsaw attached,” says Professor A. Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami School of Law, who has put together We Robot 2012, a unique conference that will attempt to get a jump on the issues posed by robot technology.

The conference will be held at the University of Miami School of Law, in Coral Gables, Florida, on April 21 and 22.

For all their promise, robots bring with them the potential for legal and policy headaches. If robots come to mimic people with great accuracy, will they change interpersonal relationships? Will the use of robots in law enforcement erode individual privacy and due process rights? Who is responsible when robots learn to harm someone, or to kill? Is it the manufacturer, the programmers, the owners, or perhaps the unwitting neighbor who might have provoked an unexpected response? Who shoulders the criminal responsibility when machines run amok? When is killing by robot a war crime?

The inaugural “We Robot” conference will tackle these issues. It will gather experts on the front lines of robot theory, design and development, as well as those who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots operate. Guests will include Kate Darling, IP Research Specialist at MIT Media Lab and currently co-teaching “Robot Rights” at Harvard Law School; Dr. Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law; and retired Brigadier General Richard M. O’Meara, who is a professor of International Law in the Division of Global and Homeland Security Affairs at Rutgers University.

“We want to start a conversation, both to help robot designers and policy-makers,” Froomkin says. “There are things that both robot designers and policymakers need to be thinking about, and the chance of getting it right is much greater if we get them to think about it together.”

Robots are entering the national agenda. President Barack Obama recently launched the National Robotics Initiative, a program designed to advance “next-generation robotics.” The focus is on robots that can work closely with humans — helping factory workers, healthcare providers, soldiers, surgeons and others.

That is why the time is right for a national conference to consider the social and policy issues that robots will create. “It’s still early enough to make changes,” says Froomkin, the Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein Distinguished Professor of Law. “Some problems will be avoided by early design changes. Other problems may require a tweak in the law to encourage the deployment of helpful new technologies. But in some cases, we’re going to find that there’s just a real conflict between what robots might do and policies we value. Even in those cases, it’s better to start the conversation early.”

The conference is free and open to the public, but advance reservations are required because of limited space. For more information, go to

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The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. The University of Miami School of Law‘s mission is to foster the intellectual discipline, creativity, and critical skills that will prepare its graduates for the highest standards of professional competence in the practice of law in a global environment subject to continual — and not always predictable — transformation; to cultivate a broad range of legal and interdisciplinary scholarship that, working at the cutting edge of its field, enhances the development of law and legal doctrine, and deepens society’s understanding of law and its role in society; and to fulfill the legal profession’s historic duty to promote the interests of justice.

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2 Responses to Official ‘We Robot 2012’ Press Release

  1. Joe says:

    Question: At what point does a remote control model (airplane, helicopter, ground vehicle or boat) become a robot? Does it have to have some level of action that does not require constant input? My helicopters have gyroscopes on the rudder that control rudder action without constant input from me. Is that enough to classify the helicopter as a robot?

    • I think it only gets interesting when it has some independence of action based on inputs. Otherwise, to me, it’s just a fancy tool. And it gets very interesting when it can learn. But the definitional question remains wide open.

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