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Anonymous Robot Speech

Robotic hand using a laptop computer, illustration.
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Anonymous Robot Speech



Madeline Lamo &

Ryan Calo


We Robot 2018




“Bots talk to us every day. These often simple programs trace their lineage at least back to Joseph Weizenbaum who, in 1966, published a program known as Eliza. Eliza, named for the character in My Fair Lady, interacted credibly with people by posing Rogerian-style questions. Today, virtually any platform capable of supporting communications—from Facebook to Twitter to phone messaging apps—plays host to thousands of bots of varying sophistication. Bots can be entertaining and helpful. They can constitute art. But bots also have the potential to cause harm in a wide variety of contexts by manipulating the people with whom they interact and by spreading misinformation.

Concerns about the role of bots in American life have, in recent months, led to increased calls for regulation. Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, offered in a September 2017 New York Times op-ed the rule that “an A.I. system must clearly disclose that it is not human.” Billionaire businessman and technology investor Mark Cuban tweeted in January 2018 that Twitter and Facebook should “confirm a real name and real person behind every account” and ensure that there is “a single human behind every account.” Senators Klobuchar, Warner, and McCain have drafted legislation known as the “Honest Ads Act” that would modify FEC regulations about use of social media, including bots, in the political context. As drafted, the bill would require all “digital platforms with over 1 million users” to “maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $10,000 aggregate dollars for online political advertisements.” Senator Warner stated that he “wants Americans seeing an ad to ‘know whether the source of that ad was generated by foreign entities’” and that “users should know whether a story is trending because real people shared it or because bots or fake accounts engaged with it.”

This paper considers the role that the First Amendment would play in any such regulations. Scholars who have considered the threshold question of First Amendment coverage of bot speech generally agree that constitutional free speech protections apply in this context. We tend to agree that bots are within the “scope” of First Amendment protection, to borrow Frederick Schauer’s famous terminology.6 But scope is only a threshold question; coverage does not tell us whether any given government intervention will succeed or fail. Generally speaking, the government may with adequate justification require the disclosure of truthful information—such as the calorie count of food—especially if the speech is commercial in nature. The government can apply reasonable time, manner, or place restrictions to any speech. To require a bot to identify as a bot, rather than as any individual speaker, feel intuitively different from censoring bot speech or unmasking the anonymous proponent of an idea.

Our thesis is that restricting bot speech, including through coerced self-identification, may be trickier than it first appears. As we explore below in greater detail, courts may look with skepticism at a rule requiring all bots to reveal themselves in all circumstances. Does a concern over consumer or political manipulation, for instance, justify a requirement that artists tell us whether a person is behind their latest creation? Moreover, even interventions that appear First Amendment sensitive on their face may wind up impossible to enforce without abridging free speech or otherwise facilitating censorship.

The paper proceeds as follows. Part I gives background on the variety, utility, and danger of bots. Part II summarizes the case for First Amendment coverage of bot or robot speech. Part III develops the case law around anonymity in free speech. These Parts build up to Part IV, which analyzes whether proposals to require bots to identify as non-human are likely to survive constitutional scrutiny as envisioned by their proponents and as applied in actual practice. A final section concludes.”


You can find the link and original paper below:

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