Two Close Friends: AI and Law


Two Close Friends: AI and Law


I interviewed Prof. Ryan Calo who is the Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Associate Professor at the University of Washington School of Law. He is a faculty co-director (with Batya Friedman and Tadayoshi Kohno) of the University of Washington Tech Policy Lab, a unique, interdisciplinary research unit that spans the School of Law, Information School, and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. Professor Calo’s research on law and emerging technology appears or is forthcoming in leading law reviews (California Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, and Columbia Law Review) and technical publications (MIT Press, Nature, Artificial Intelligence) and is frequently referenced by the mainstream media (NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal).


Pleasant readings…


Cetin: Lets begin with a personal question. Robots and law… It has become quite a popular topic. How do you evaluate the development of this field?

Calo: I am very happy with the trajectory of robotics law and policy in the past ten years. It went from being a bit of a fringe conversation, at least in the United States, to a mature sub-discipline with sophisticated theory and concrete examples. I think that We Robot—the annual conference you’ve attended—has been instrumental.


Cetin: : Countries have gradually started to determine AI policies. What do you think about the effects of the democratic and economic structure of countries on AI policies?

Calo: Good question. Some countries are seeing AI as an opportunity to be more globally competitive, whereas others are worried about preserving their edge. The best policies in my view think about the social impacts of AI on their own society while understanding AI as a global enterprise. I don’t like the rhetoric of AI as a “race” that one or more countries will “win.” This kind of thinking leads to harmful shortcuts and hinders cooperation.


Cetin: Developing countries import the technological products largely, and these technological products find a great demand in the domestic market.  How do you think this situation affects AI regulations in developing countries?

Calo: I think it’s important to keep in mind that technology brings with it cultural and other assumptions. So when developed economies export technology to less developed ones, there is the potential that the values of those developed nations will accompany the product. Thus I think the AI policy of developing countries should include best practices around procurement. What I mean is that developing countries, though they may not be developing AI at the same rates, still have market power and can insist that the products they import respect their values and well-being. No entity should import AI without insisting on this.


Cetin: Comparing anglo-saxon law system with continental law system, what can the regulatory challenges of AI and robots be?

Calo: I actually think the challenges of robotics law are pretty consistent across common law and civil law. They include assessing responsibility for harm, privacy, and questions of control and ownership. It may be that common law proves more flexible in reacting to new technology but there’s no inherent reason that would be the case.


Cetin: Especially in recent years, technology companies have taken steps in artificial intelligence and ethics.  As an example, one of them was Google. What should be the most important issue for companies when determining policy on artificial intelligence and ethics?

Calo: I have long argued that we cannot emphasize ethics to the exclusion of law and policy. This phenomenon has become known as “ethics washing,” which captures the intuition many have that companies would rather craft their own ethical guidelines than face mandatory rules from government. So while the content of ethics programs is very important, so is the question of legitimacy.

With this understanding in place, companies should emphasize the ways that they harms and benefits of AI are often unevenly distributed and have processes in place to co-design AI with all stakeholders and assess the social impacts of new technologies, especially on the most vulnerable. This is more important in my opinion than mere transparency.


Cetin: The European Commission recently adopted the Cyber Security Act. This is an important step about information security in EU. What about the US? How do you evaluate the approachment of the US to cyber security in the terms of private sector and government applications?

Calo: I worry that the definition of hacking is outdated in light of AI, especially adversarial machine learning. I wrote a paper about this with colleagues in computer science entitled Is Tricking a Robot Hacking? We argue that manipulating AI by tricking it is becoming just as dangerous as breaking into a computer system. We need ways to make AI more robust against attack while also protecting researchers who are testing AI for insecurity or bias.


Cetin: CCPA is the one of the most important regulations in California.  But still there is no federal regulation on data protection in the US. What are the effects of this situation for individuals and companies?

Calo: I don’t know. Lots of people and groups, including companies themselves, are calling for federal baseline data protection in the United States. I think everyone is tired of the uncertainty and that fear and instability that results. I don’t the CCPA is perfect but I credit California for jump-starting the conversation in the U.S.


Cetin: I am sure this question is asked to you so much, but I ask it again for the readers.  What are your suggestions to university students who want to improve themselves in robot law?

Calo: Great question! I would say to attend or at least watch and follow We Robot. That is where this conversation is most vibrant. But also, seek out people in other disciplines. If you’re a roboticist, find the law and social science people. If you’re in law or social science, talk to the robotics and AI students and faculty. As I say often, very few important questions exist that can be resolved by reference to any single disciplines.

Thanks for your always excellent questions, Selin, and for educating people about about robotics law!


Respects to Dear Ryan Calo…