Monthly Archives: April 2012

We Robot 2012 Videos Online Soon

The We Robot conference went very, very well. We should have videos uploaded in about a week. I’ll post links when I have them.

Meanwhile, here are some mini-videos shot by the UM Law staff during the conference.

Now I’m going to go get more rest…

Posted in Robots | Leave a comment

We Like Facts (Tax Rates)

Three charts lifted from Just How Progressive is the U.S. Tax Code?:

via Tax Prof Blog

Posted in Econ & Money | 1 Comment

The Death of Facts

Chicago Trib runs obit for facts, Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012. A snippet:

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 2 Comments

We Robot — Day 2 Coming Up

Our first day of We Robot 2012 was, I think, about as great as it could be. It was particularly interesting to see papers from very different perspectives,a bout often quite different topics, converging on a set of shared concerns.

One of them is how we should think of a robot — is it a tool, like a hammer, or it something more?

The question of ‘robot agency’ will in fact be the lead-off for today’s program.

The Miami Herald did a write-up of our final panel yesterday, Brave new world of robot litigants, soldiers, escorts, which plays up the sensationalist aspects of the conference, but makes good reading. You’d never guess though that we also talked about whether robot ethics should have a deontological perspective. Then again it’s not as sensationalist as this concoction, in which the New Times took a stray remark of mine, in which I observed that it was a good thing the drones purchased by Miami-Dade police were not armed, and ran with it (We Robot 2012 Conference at UM Plans for Violent Machine Uprising).

Remote participation is easy: use the Live Video Stream or the Live Video Stream For Mobile Devices. There are links to all the papers for We Robot 2012. And we’re tweeting up a storm with hashtag #werobot.

Posted in Robots, U.Miami | 1 Comment

We Robot 2012 Today

We Robot 20112 starts in less than an hour.

I had dinner with many of the speakers last night, and I was delighted to find that one of my aims for the event seems to be coming true: many of the participants talked about the pleasure of finding — creating — a community of people with an interest in robots and society (law, economics, ethics, policy, medicine and more). There were even some people with ambitious plans to create community-building institutions.

Thanks in large part to the heroic efforts of Jessi Tamayo and the UM Law conference staff everything seems to be running like clockwork. Except the weather: it’s not just raining, it’s thundering, which is pretty unusual for Miami. I guess the bright side is that the conference participants will be less likely to mind being indoors all day — we do have a long program planned.

There will be a Live Video Stream and also a Live Video Stream For Mobile Devices. Plus links to all the papers for We Robot 2012. And we’ll be tweeting the event with hashtag #werobot.

Join in the fun!

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Another Blow to Free Speech

David Cole, 39 Ways to Limit Free Speech.

Seventeen and a half years for translating a document? Granted, it’s an extremist text. Among the “39 ways” it advocates include “Truthfully Ask Allah for Martyrdom,” “Go for Jihad Yourself,” “Giving Shelter to the Mujahedin,” and “Have Enmity Towards the Disbelievers.” (Other “ways to serve,” however, include, “Learn to Swim and Ride Horses,” “Get Physically Fit,” “Stand in Opposition to the Disbelievers,” and “Expose the Hypocrites and Traitors.”) But surely we have not come to the point where we lock people up for nearly two decades for translating a widely available document? After all, news organizations and scholars routinely translate and publicize jihadist texts; think, for example, of the many reports about messages from Osama bin Laden.

In 2009, Tarek Mehanna, who has no prior criminal record, was arrested and placed in maximum security confinement on “terrorism” charges. The case against him rested on allegations that as a 21-year old he had traveled with friends to Yemen in 2004 in an unsuccessful search for a jihadist training camp in order to fight in Iraq, and that he had translated several jihadist tracts and videos into English for distribution on the Internet, allegedly to spur readers on to jihad. After a two-month trial, he was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The jury did not specify whether it found him guilty for his aborted trip to Yemen—which resulted in no known contacts with jihadists—or for his translations, so under established law, the conviction cannot stand unless it’s permissible to penalize him for his speech. Mehanna is appealing.

Under traditional (read “pre-9/11”) First Amendment doctrine, Mehanna could not have been convicted even if he had written “39 Ways” himself, unless the government could shoulder the heavy burden of demonstrating that the document was “intended and likely to incite imminent lawless action,” a standard virtually impossible to meet for written texts. In 1969, in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established that standard in ruling that the First Amendment protected a Ku Klux Klansman who made a speech to a Klan gathering advocating “revengeance” against “niggers” and “Jews.” It did so only after years of experience with federal and state governments using laws prohibiting advocacy of crime as a tool to target political dissidents (anarchists, anti-war protesters, and Communists, to name a few).

But in Mehanna’s case, the government never tried to satisfy that standard. It didn’t show that any violent act was caused by the document or its translation, much less that Mehanna intended to incite imminent criminal conduct and was likely, through the translation, to do so. In fact, it accused Mehanna of no violent act of any kind. Instead, the prosecutor successfully argued that Mehanna’s translation was intended to aid al-Qaeda, by inspiring readers to pursue jihad themselves, and therefore constituted “material support” to a “terrorist organization.”

The government provided no evidence that Mehanna ever met or communicated with anyone from al-Qaeda. Nor did it demonstrate that the translation was sent to al-Qaeda. (It was posted by an online publisher , Al-Tibyan Publications, that has not been designated as a part of or a front for al-Qaeda). It did not even claim that the “39 Ways” was written by al-Qaeda. The prosecution offered plenty of evidence that in Internet chat rooms Mehanna expressed admiration for the group’s ideology, and for Osama bin Laden in particular. But can one provide “material support” to a group with which one has never communicated?

If this had been the rule back then, I could imagine some people wanting to extend the logic to shut down domestic writing about cryptography back in the early 90s. Because that is what some of them were saying — that spreading crypto around was a way to aid the Four Horsemen of the Infocopalypse: drug dealers, pornographers, pedophiles and terrorists. At the time the terrorists were the tail, not the dog, but times change quickly.

(When I grow up, I want to write for the New York Review of Books.)

Posted in Civil Liberties, Cryptography | 1 Comment