From Bot to Robot: How Abilities and Law Change with Physicality

Conference:  BlackHat USA 2018



The presentation discusses the legal implications of robots and AI, including liability, privacy, and gender issues.
  • The legal system can adapt to new technologies through analogies and precedent
  • Focus should be on how new technologies affect societal interactions
  • Gender-neutral robots are important to avoid reinforcing negative gender roles
  • There is limited tort law in the area of damages caused by software
  • Definitions of robots vary, but most require sensors, actuators, and interaction with the world
The speaker mentions a robot with biceps and a deep v-neck that made female participants uncomfortable, illustrating the importance of gender-neutral robots.


Online bots and real-world robots are both capable of manipulating people and communities. Online bots are part of attacks on human belief systems that range in scale from nation-states to smaller communities, aimed at disrupting, causing division and forcing group opinion. Current bot developers have shown good results with relatively unsophisticated programs, but algorithms exist to make these bots much more effective. Embodying these online bots into physical hardware bodies changes both the social dynamics and legal implications regarding their action.; Embodied bots, (ie. robots), can be used to socially engineer people by gaining their trust, and manipulating them into doing or saying something they otherwise might not. Increasingly sophisticated, free-roaming bots and robots also bring questions of responsibility, personhood, privacy rights and liability: we need to develop legal and policy frameworks to address AI, robots, and their interplay with our society now. We discuss the mechanisms by which bots and robots manipulate people, the mitigations available, and the legal implications of such behaviours. We cover how to manipulate people online at scale, who's doing it (and why), why it works and how to defend yourself. We talk about the interplay between large-scale data collection and embodied robot manipulation of humans, how emotions are used, and how data collected by robots can be even more privacy invading because people form social bonds and attachments with robots. We also cover robot policy and law, and expected issues as bots become more sophisticated and ubiquitous. We finish with recommendations for attendees wanting to counter potential attacks.