I Am Interested in the Social Life of Things, or, #WeRobot

If you are, like me, interested in “the social life of things,” then I commend the live video feed from the We Robot conference currently underway in Miami this weekend.  I have it up in a corner of my screen, and I am particularly struck by how many different areas of law will have something to say about the regulation of robots and robotics, and automation and autonomy broadly.  While listening to that, you can also (subscriber wall?) read the WSJ’s weekend review article on Heather Knight, a graduate student in robotics whose speciality is “social robotics.”

To judge from previous comments on robotics discussions here at VC, commenters tend toward a sort of snobbish techno-reductivism, dismissing questions of society and robots, regulation and robots, etc., as the task of lesser minds, separate from the smart people who deal with “real” innovation.  (Our readers, I’d guess, are much less snobbish that way.)  Let me say up front that this is silly.  If robots are going to leave such places as the factory floor and enter ordinary society, then social robotics and the questions of design that address the human-robot interfaces will be utterly crucial – and not easy, even if they involve questions of psychology, sociology, and law. Be Not A Techo-Snob, Ye Who Enter Here.

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