The Future of Robots: Designing Trust and Privacy

Posted By on November 13, 2015

On Friday 13th November 2015 the Security and Privacy Conference 20/20 conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The conference looks at us in an age of ubiquitous technology, mass amounts of personal digitized data , sharing, analysis, and monetization. These tools have broad application and will transform the way we work, the way we are governed, and the way we think about information and data.

In The Future of Robots: Designing Trust and Privacy we look at the key session held around Robotics and Privacy:

The robots are coming. We already rely on machines to crawl the web, answer our questions, and help us navigate our world. More and more, these machines are being clothed in human qualities. The aim is to build trust and create the conditions for increased sharing of personal information, which can be mined for predictive analytics and other purposes. The decision to populate our skies, cities, workplaces, homes and families with machines that can sense, think and act on their own will cause profound social and economic shifts. It will increase surveillance in places we consider private. It will alter the role of human workers in a variety of sectors, beyond expected job losses. It will reconfigure our liability and accountability systems. How do our privacy laws map against this emerging robotic world? Will the public embrace these technologies, and if they do, will we recognize the risks?

Robots and Privacy Panel and Insights


Image by Nikolas Badminton (All Rights Reserved)

Dr. Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, moderated the session and was joined by 3 other experts in robotics and privacy:

  • Dr. Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Washington
  • Dr. Kate Darling, Research Specialist at the MIT Media Lab, MIT
  • Dr. Woodrow HartzogAssistant Professor, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, Affiliate Scholar, The Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School

Here are some key insights that we are taking away from this session.

  • Designing connectivity with robots, using anthropomorphic cues or other techniques, needs to consider trust.
    • We buy the robots and let them in. They sometimes become members of the family but where should the relationship start and end?  Should we control online bots that disrupt accepted process e.g. Twitter bots, Tinder bots etc.? In this case teh argument is yes as they are clearly fraudulent or actively trying to spam or disrupt a trusted process of connection and opinion. What about technology like ‘Hello Barbie’?

  • Those academics and/or companies creating robots need to design privacy in from the very early stages of design.
    • There must be close consideration around privacy standards and potential issues early on. This is currently a big oversight in those companies as privacy can stall development or freedom in the creativity of creating awesome robots. Jibo is one such robot that is hoping to get it right.

  • Drones could be a privacy catalyst but we need to see them as part of the larger family of robots
    • The panel talked about that drones are hoped to be a privacy catalyst however they have ended up being a catalyst for ‘drone privacy’ vs. a wider consideration of privacy with robotic machines in the world. Recently a Judge dismissed a case against a ‘Drone Slayer’ who shot down a drone from their back porch (read more at WSJ Law). 

Bullitt County Judge Rebecca Ward on Monday dismissed the case against William H. Merideth, who admitted to shooting down a drone he said was hovering over his home last July.

“I think it’s credible testimony that his drone was hovering from anywhere, for two or three times over these people’s property, that it was an invasion of their privacy and that they had the right to shoot this drone,” Ward told the courtroom. “And I’m going to dismiss his charge.”

The speakers were hugely knowledgeable and insightful and raised some key questions and we encourage you to take a look at some of their other talks and writing.

Dr. Ian Kerr

Ian Kerr holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, with cross appointments in Medicine, Philosophy and Information Studies. Dr. Kerr’s research lies at the intersection of ethics, law and technology and is currently focused on two broad themes: (i) Privacy and Surveillance; and (ii) Human-Machine Mergers. Building on his recent Oxford University Press book, Lessons from the Identity Trail, his ongoing privacy work focuses on the interplay between emerging public and private sector surveillance technologies, civil liberties and human rights. His recent research on robotics and implantable devices examines legal and ethical implications of emerging technologies in the health sector and beyond.

Dr. Kate Darling

Dr. Kate Darling is a Research Specialist at the MIT Media Lab and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center and the Yale Information Society Project. Her interest is in how technology intersects with society. Kate’s work has explored economic issues in intellectual property systems and also looks at the near-term effects of robotic technology, with a particular interest in law, social, and ethical issues. She runs experiments, hold workshops, writes, and lectures on some of the more interesting developments in the world of human-robot interaction, and where we might find ourselves in the coming decades.

Dr. Ryan Calo

Ryan Calo is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law and an assistant professor (by courtesy) at the Information School. 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 Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Professor Calo is a CoMotion Presidential Innovation Fellow for the class of 2015.

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, Stanford Law Review Online, University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online) and technical publications (MIT Press, IEEE, Science, Artificial Intelligence), and is frequently referenced by the mainstream media (NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal). Professor Calo has also testified before the full Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate and spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival and NPR’s Weekend in Washington. In 2014, he was named one of the most important people in robotics by Business Insider.

Dr. Woodrow Hartzog

Woodrow Hartzog is an Associate Professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He is also an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a contributor at Forbes. His research on privacy, contracts, media, and robotics has appeared or is scheduled to appear in numerous law reviews and peer-reviewed publications such as the Columbia Law ReviewCalifornia Law Review, and Michigan Law Reviewand popular publications such as The Guardian, Wired, The Atlantic, and CNN. His book Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.

Some of his articles are well worth reading as well:


Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.

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