RoboLaw: Law, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Course content

Society stands on the cusp of unprecedented, even unfathomable, change as the maturation of decades of research and development promises to unleash a wave of brilliant technologies in the near future. This impending shift of artificial intelligence and robotic technologies from science fiction to daily reality holds the potential to inundate society with flood of fundamental challenges to which legal responses must be defined and developed. The core objective of this course is thus to formulate and articulate appropriate legal responses to these challenges, and more broadly to consider structural and substantive changes to the law that would be necessary to accommodate for the new realities that these technologies introduce.
This seminar is divided into three broad sections. Introducing the emerging field of Robolaw, the aim of the first section is to critically consider the competing views proffered by commentators about both the extent of the challenge and the nature of the necessary responses. Thus, this first section explores the prominent positions and sketches the contours of the existing debates surrounding the use of autonomous weapons systems in armed conflict. This sets the stage for the second section, which delves into the nature of the legal challenges posed by artificial intelligence and robotic technologies. These revolve largely around issues of rights and responsibilities, but this section will also discuss appropriate and necessary regulatory responses drawn from experience in technology regulation more broadly. The final section grounds these more theoretical discussions to specific case studies where artificial intelligence and robotics may be societally disruptive, allowing us to consider the role the law might play in more concrete scenarios. This last section will be left intentionally flexible to accommodate for the interests of the students who are actually enrolled in the course and will be agreed upon in our first meeting, with a reading list to follow shortly after.

Among the topics covered are:

1: Introduction: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the Law
2: Early Perspectives on
3: The Cyber Law/Law of the Horse Debate
4: Robots in War: Legal Issues
5: Autonomous Weapons Systems: The Prohibition Debate
6: Robotic Wars and the Limits of Legal Regulation
7: Rights of Robots and Artificially Intelligent Entities
8: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Criminal Liability
9: Responsibility and Emergent Behaviour
10: Technological Management, Risk Perspectives and Regulatory Responses
11: Direction, Precaution and Prohibition: Artificial Intelligence as an Existential or Catastrophic Risk
12: Emerging Concerns: The End of Work
13: Emerging Concerns: Legal Practice and the Future of the Professions
14: Emerging Concerns: Driverless Cars
15: Emerging Concerns: Sex Robots
16: Emerging Concerns: Care and Companion Robots
17: Emerging Concerns: Medical Applications of Robotics and AI
18: Emerging Concerns: Robotic Creativity and the Law
19: Emerging Concerns: Horizon Scanning for Law and Policy Issues with Robotics and AI

Learning outcome

The seminar provides the students with knowledge of:

- The contemporary ethical and moral issues confronting both the law and legal practice;
- A rapidly emerging, and increasingly crucial, area at the intersection of law and technology;
- The discussions surrounding emerging social, technological and legal issues in the contemporary global context;
- Comparative approaches to complex contemporary problems;
- The possibilities for improving law and justice introduced by near horizon technologies.

The seminar provides the students with the following skills:

- The ability to identify and adopt interdisciplinary approaches, methodologies and analysis, with awareness of the possibilities and limitations;
- The capacity to discuss legal, social and technological issues at both the transnational and international contexts;
- The ability to both creatively and critically assess claims of the impact of emerging technologies upon current law.

The seminar provides the students with the following competencies:

- The ability to independently identify and address emerging legal issues within contemporary social and technological changes;
- The ability to apply comparative approaches to complex problems (e.g. by researching responses developed in other jurisdictions or by drawing analogies to responses to other technological fields);
- The capability to critically address rapidly changing global realities from a legal perspective;
- The capacity to independently undertake rigorous legal analysis of complex social, ethical and technological issues in creative and critical fashions.

The relatively new and emergent nature of the course lends it well to a creative thinking atmosphere, where the class collectively thinkings about the legal, policy and regulatory dimensions of disruptive technologies in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. As a result, the course is broadly participatory and structured along the lines of a research seminar. Thus, while basic knowledge from the readings is the starting point, the aim is to rapidly progress from that point of departure to explore new and emerging challenges through dialogue, small group work and class discussions. The mixture ensures that individual perspectives are brought to the class as a whole, whether directly or mediated through small group dynamics. The highly interactive nature of the course also harnesses the comparative law strengths inherent within the range of jurisdictions represented within the student body. This lends itself nicely to cross-fertilisation of law, policy and regulatory thinking as lessons can be drawn from reactions from different jurisdictions to similar problems, allowing for adoption, adaptation, and improvement.
Furthermore, student presentations are planned for the latter section of the course in which self-directed research and group coordination are key. The students have to identify an area in which they have particular interest, find common ground with others and then coordinate to form a coherent presentation of a relevant (usually more specific) topic to which they contribute an integral part. As a result, the full diversity of perspectives in the classroom can be aired effectively, while their colleagues are able to provide direct feedback to the presentation and to the individual projects which have been aired.

Many of the readings emanate from American sources for the simple reason that this is where most of the scholarship and commentary is generated. Be aware, therefore, that many of the legal reactions and positions taken are rooted within American jurisprudence. As a result, you should treat these sources as informing the development of your thinking on these exciting emerging issues, rather than as immutable law. Remember, you will be assessed on your critical engagement with the material in your final essay.

General Materials:

The proposed textbook will be the forthcoming ‘Robot Law’, edited by Ryan Calo, A. Michael Froomkin and Ian Kerr (Edward Elgar 2016), which is the very first of its kind.

We will also draw material from Ugo Pagallo, ‘The Law of Robots’ (Springer 2013).

These core sources will be complemented by a range of academic articles and policy and press pieces tailored to each seminar topic which will be made available through Absalon in good time.

As this is a dynamic area, the reading list provided below should be seen as guidance only and will be subject to revision. A fantastic resource, completely free and open-access, are the papers constituting the We Robot Conferences held every Spring since 2012 (at the Universities of Miami, Stanford and Washington so far). Rather than providing you with a direct link it is actually useful that you navigate around the series of websites yourselves so that you are able to find the material that interests you the most. In most instances, video recordings of the panels and conference papers presented are also accessible from the relevant We Robot website. The ‘Robot Law’ volume consists of updated contributions to those conferences.

General Background:

John Brockman (ed.), What to Think About Machines That Think (2015) Harper Collins.
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age, (2014) W.W. Norton.
Martin Ford, The Rise of the Robots (2015) Basic Books.

Other Resources:

New York Times, Smarter Than You Think Series:
New York Times, Bits Robotica Video Series:
Centre for Existential Risk research theme:

Good command of English.

There is a minor overlap (one session) with Law and Policy for Existential Risks

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written examination
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • English
  • 412,5