Robotics and the Law

Ryan Calo is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law. He is a faculty co-director 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 holds courtesy appointments at the University of Washington Information School and the Oregon State University School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering.

Professor Calo’s research on law and emerging technology appears or is forthcoming in leading law reviews and technical publications. He has testified before the full Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate and the German Parliament, and has organized events on behalf of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House. He has been a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and NPR’s Weekend in Washington. Business Insider named him one of the most influential people in robotics.


What projects or ideas have you been focusing on recently?

I have been working with various policymakers on the best law and policy infrastructure for robotics and artificial intelligence. So, for example, this summer I helped the White House convene a conversation around AI and testified before the U.S. Senate and the German Parliament about emerging technology.

What could lawyers look at in a new way that would benefit their clients and society?

Risk assessment.

What one thing about the practice of law would you change if you could?

Billable hours.

What is the most exciting development you have seen recently in the practice of law?

More and more firms are assembling interdisciplinary teams—including technologists, accountants, and others—to tackle their client’s complex topics from multiple angles. I think this is a wonderful development.

What technologies, business models, and trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next two years?

Law, no less than other fields, will likely be transformed by advances in machine learning, i.e., technology capable of detecting patterns and making predictions. I also see online legal marketplaces and software capable of guiding consumers through basic legal issues (like drafting a will) as potentially impactful.

What’s the best new law practice idea you have heard recently?

I’m a big fan of what Littler Mendelson, the labor and employment firm, is doing around robotics. They have a whole practice group devoted to helping clients navigate the introduction of more automation into their businesses. Other law firms have practice groups around drones or driverless cars. It’s an exciting time to be a robotics lawyer!

About the Author

Nicholas Gaffney is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.

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