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Faculty News and Scholarship

  • - Business Insider
    Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington with an eye on robot ethics and policy, does not see a machine uprising ever happening: “Based on what I read, and on conversations I have had with a wide variety of roboticists and computer scientists, I do not believe machines will surpass human intelligence — in the sense of achieving ‘strong’ or ‘general’ AI — in the foreseeable future. Even if processing power continues to advance,we would need an achievement in software on par with the work of Mozart to reproduce consciousness.”
    Calo adds, however, that we should watch for warnings leading up to a potential singularity moment. If we see robots become more multipurpose and contextually aware then they may then be “on their way to strong AI,” says Calo. That will be a tip that they’re advancing to the point of danger for humans.
  • - Wired How the legal system would deal with child-like sex robots isn’t entirely clear, according to Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that simulated child pornography (in which young adults or computer generated characters play the parts of children) is protected by the First Amendment and can’t be criminalized. “I could see that extending to embodied [robotic] children, but I can also see courts and regulators getting really upset about that,” Calo said. (7/17/14)
  • - Forbes If an entrepreneur started up KidSexBots-R-Us, would it be legal? Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, thinks it might be, based on the Supreme Court’s treatment of child pornography. “What appears to be child porn, but isn’t, is not illegal,” said Calo. Making or possessing child pornography results in severe legal penalties; those who watch child porn sometimes get longer sentences than people convicted of actually molesting children. However, in 2002, the Supreme Court drew a line between child porn and “virtual child porn” where the “child” is actually a young-looking adult or a computer-rendered image. It said images that are wholly faked, no matter how realistic they were, are legal. So the law might see sex with a “virtual child” the same way. At least in the U.S. (7/14/14)
  • - NBC News
    Ryan Calo, a drone expert and assistant professor of law the University of Washington, thinks the drones can be effective, but worries about how they might be used in the future after reports of them being rented out to agencies like the FBI and local sheriff's departments.
    "Once you have drones for this one purpose, you could start to use them more often domestically, and then they become part of an ever more militarized police force," he told NBC News. "That is a trend to be concerned about."
  • - Forbes Ryan Calo, an academic at the University of Washington, was writing about corporate lab rats even before it became a hot topic of conversation. “It’s about information asymmetry,” he says. “A company has all this information about the consumer, the ability to design every aspect of the interaction and an economic incentive to extract as much value as possible. And that makes consumers nervous.” (7/10/14)
  • - Robotics Business Review
    It only lasted for two minutes and thirteen seconds (watch it for yourself below), but Ryan Calo’s “Big Idea” at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado is here to stay for a long, long time.
    What Calo said wasn’t overly profound; such things are difficult to pull off in two minutes—unless you’re Abe Lincoln, Shakespeare, or a Biblical prophet.
    Rather, he was making the kind of common sense that makes audiences nod in surprise agreement and then turn to one another and nod again, which in itself is a kind of profound reaction for an idea from a law professor from Seattle. But, this was Ryan Calo, and he has a habit of getting audiences to react to his ideas in that way.
  • - Business Insider Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington (and one of Business Insider's most important people in robotics), believes that robotic technology is advancing so rapidly with such heavyweight implications that the current structure of the US government will be ill-equipped to handle it, reports The Atlantic. (7/7/14)
  • - Marketplace Tech First up, Ryan Calo, Associate Law Professor at the University of Washington and an affiliate scholar at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, talks about why companies like Facebook should be thinking about the ethics of information and consumer research. (7/7/14)
  • - Venture Beat
    University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo has recommended the creation of “Consumer Subject Review Boards”, which review the research of private companies. It’s akin to the Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) already standard at every major university.
    I met Professor Calo last week at the Atlantic Aspen Ideas festival; he later wrote to me, “I think Facebook would have fared better under this regime because they would have had a set of established criteria as well as a record of when and why it was approved.
  • - The Seattle Times A woman alarmed by a drone flying around her Seattle high rise unknowingly launched a Portland business owner into a futuristic world of drones saddled with confusing policies. Now, Joe Vaughn could face a $10,000 fine for commercially flying his 25-pound drone. (7/5/14)
  • - The New York Times
    Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law who studies technology policy, has called for companies that conduct experiments on their users to create “consumer subject review boards,” a kind of internal ombudsman who would assess each proposed experiment and balance the potential risks to users against the potential rewards.
    “There’s enough pressure and understanding of this issue that these firms are going to have to come up with a way to make the public and regulators comfortable with experimenting with consumers,” Mr. Calo said.
  • - Forbes
    When a technology company behaves badly, you hear one defense brought up repeatedly: they could have done so much worse. When Google decided that they would use your face in their advertisements, you shouldn’t have been outraged, you should have been relieved they didn’t tell everyone your darkest secrets. The message is, given what they know about you, you should be grateful that they treat you as well as they do.
    Meanwhile, there is an arms race to delve deeper into your personal information to make it actionable. While the last ten years were focused on how to collect as much information as possible, the next will be focused on how to turn that information into action. Legal scholar Ryan Calo argues that we need to watch out for “digital market manipulation” here – where companies use your background, details, and emotional state to coerce you into buying products you don’t need or paying higher prices than you normally would. He’s got a point; knowing and influencing your emotional state can be a major advantage in getting your attention, a factor that influenced Facebook to undertake this study in the first place.
  • - Slate
    The government plans to use facial recognition and iris scanning to foreigners’ visa status as they’re leaving the United States, according to Nextgov. At a new biometric testing center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, government officials will spend the next eight to 12 months working on the technology and its application for its premiere in 10 major airports by 2015.
    Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington and a privacy expert, told me that he’s concerned with how facial recognition technology could judge the mental state of exiting passengers. “What I worry about with biometrics is the capacity to tell things like: Is this person nervous? Are they lying? … I worry about too closely studying human subjects at the borders, in or out,” he says. There are currently technologies that can register your emotion using facial recognition, and the new DHS program could include such abilities.
  • - Mashable
    Facebook manipulated the News Feeds of hundreds of thousands of people to see if showing them mostly positive or negative posts affected their emotions. The research ignited anger among users, who accused the company of manipulation in the guise of science. But did Facebook actually break any laws? Mashable talked to law professors to separate fact from fiction. Several factors have to be considered when judging whether Facebook broke any laws. First of all, Facebook's terms of service (which the company calls its Data Use Policy) makes it clear that, when creating an account, a user consents to his or her data being used for "research" — although what kind of research is unclear.
    Ryan Calo, a privacy expert and law professor at the University of Washington, told Mashable that the study may be "creepy" but not necessarily in violation of any privacy law.
  • - Forbes This weekend, the Internet discovered a study published earlier this month in an academic journal that recounted how a Facebook data scientist, along with two university researchers, turned 689,003 users’ New Feeds positive or negative to see if it would elate or depress them. The purpose was to find out if emotions are “contagious” on social networks. (They are, apparently.) The justification for subjecting unsuspecting users to the psychological mind game was that everyone who signs up for Facebook agrees to the site’s “Data Use Policy,” which has a little line about how your information could be used for “research.”  (6/29/14)
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