Hughes, Wallach, Darling @ Societal Implications of Robotics Symposium (SIRoS) May 1, 2015
Brown University, Providence, RI USA

Conference Flyer

Conference website

Rapid advances in robotic technologies in the military, medicine, education, and even private homes demand a careful examination of the potentially transformative impact of robotics on society. The transformation could be positive:  providing access to services previously unattainable to many individuals; raising productivity; and enhancing safety and quality of life. But the transformation could also be negative:  restricting access to services to only those who can afford or operate new technology; replacing whole segments of the human workforce; and endangering people’s psychological safety through deceptive attachments to robot partners. This symposium brings together scholars and practitioners from multiple disciplines to examine the difficult questions: What are our obligations to shape this transformation to be positive? How can we contribute to such a positive shaping? And what legal and ethical norms may have to be established to foster a harmonious growth toward a future society with robots?

This symposium is co-organized by Bertram Malle and Michael Littman, hosted by Brown University’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative (HCRI), and supported by the Office of the Provost.

The HCRI aims to address the issues and challenges of robotics and society through building on Brown’s interdisciplinary strengths across the physical, life, and human and social sciences.  The initiative is committed to (1) examine problems in society that can be resolved with the help of scientific and technical solutions; (2) advance human-centered robotic technology that enhances quality of life and fosters productivity; and (3) studies the social, legal, ethical, and policy ramifications of new robotic technologies.

Workshop Schedule

*Please note that only the keynote talks are open to the general public. If you wish to attend a panel discussion, please email*

8:00am – 9:00am   Breakfast
Metcalf Research Bldg, 2nd floor, 190 Thayer Street

9:00a– 10:30am Open to the Public

Keynote Presentation: Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics, The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University
“Robotics, Empowerment, and Equity”
Metcalf Research Bldg., Friedman Auditorium Room 101, 190 Thayer Street

Robotics has left the laboratory and is holding direct societal impact in its sights. In this talk I will evaluate how robotic technology and its interplay with the age of the Internet of Things has affordances for disempowering citizens and creating greater levels of inequity in society. I will also lay a vision for how robotics can be exploited by communities to forge levels of technological fluency that may counteract the more dystopian scenarios I will describe.

10:45am – 12:00pm   Panel Discussion: Economics, Education, and Care

Seth Benzell (Boston University)
Stephanie Holmquist (Holmquist Educational Consultants, Inc.)
Matthias Scheutz (Tufts University)
David Weil (Brown University)
Holly Yanco (University of Massachusetts Lowell)

12:00pm – 1:00pm Lunch

1:00pm – 2:15pm   Panel Discussion: Ethics & Law

Peter Asaro (The New School)
Kate Darling (MIT)
Tim Edgar (Brown University)
Reza Ghanadan (DARPA)
Bertram Malle (Brown University)
Wendell Wallach (Yale University)

2:30pm – 3:45pm   Panel Discussion: Threat of Intelligence?

Micah Clark (ONR)
James Hughes (Trinity College)
Michael Littman (Brown University)
Anders Sandberg (University of Oxford)
Stefanie Tellex (Brown University)

4:00p – 5:30pm
Open to the Public

Keynote Presentation: Bill Smart, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Oregon State University
“How the Law Will Think About Robots (And Why You Should Care)”

Metcalf Research Bldg., Friedman Auditorium Room 101, 190 Thayer Street

As robots and robotic devices begin to enter our lives in the coming years, legislation will be written to govern them. This legislation will typically not be written by robot-savvy technologists but by legal scholars, based on their understanding of what a robot is and what it can do. Roboticists must be careful about the metaphors they use to describe these systems to lawmakers, since the latter see the world through a different lens than roboticists do. I’ll touch on what I call the “Android Fallacy,” the pitfall of thinking about robots as anything other than (potentially very sophisticated) deterministic machines, and what this might mean for future legislative frameworks that affect robots and robotics.