Laws of Robotics (Techno-Rico)

The Laws of Robotics (Techno-Rico) is a January exchange course, taught one week in Ottawa and two weeks in Puerto Rico. The class is shared equally by University of Ottawa and Universidad de Puerto Rico students. To download the 2015 syllabus, please click here.

We are entering an age of advanced robotics and automation. By the time students enrolled in this course become established in their legal careers, it is anticipated that robots will be our surgeons and our domestic servants. They will drive our cars, diagnose disease, and run major elements of our financial markets. Other complex services once offered by human beings (including some legal services) will be automated; these automated systems will become the proxy for human decision-making.

How do law and technology structure and constrain our possible future worlds? What laws or ethical rules ought to govern a society enmeshed in human-computer interaction? And, how will these various codes enable and disable the possibility of achieving what is good, what is right, and what is just?

The subject matter of this course is the philosophy of law. Students read some of the greatest minds in analytic jurisprudence from Plato and Aristotle to Fuller and Dworkin. Edified by these canons of jurisprudential thought, students interrogate the questions raised above through an exploration of state of the art robot and automation technologies and their introduction into society. Students consider the ethical and legal significance of robots in the workplace, the market, our roadways, and at home. Through a critique of existing and soon to be proposed ethical and legislative frameworks, students contemplate the interrelationship between philosophy, ethics, law, and technology by thinking about: the general goals of artificial intelligence, whether and how robots ought to be programmed, how automated systems ought to resolve conflicting rules and norms, and about the broader social implications of boarding this strange mothership.

Through this interrogation, students will consider core ethical and legal concepts including questions about sentience and personhood, legal and moral agency, servitude and slavery, criminal and civil liability, safety, privacy, and security. Students will also have the opportunity to further refine their skills in public speaking and oral argumentation, and to renew their abilities in legal research and writing.

Teaching Method:

The course operates like a typical graduate seminar. Seminar participants should therefore expect to engage in a variety of learning methodologies other than the traditional lecture format. In addition to completing daily readings, attending the seminar on a regular basis and participating in class discussion, exercises and demonstrations, seminar participants will be evaluated on the basis of an individual quiz and a team project, assigned by the instructor towards the end of the course. As this seminar involves students from both the Universidad de Puerto Rico and the University of Ottawa, students should expect, embrace, and relish in the opportunity to work with team members schooled in legal traditions other than their own.

Additional Requirements or Recommendations:

It is strongly recommended that students come to the course with:

  • i) a deep longing for the Greek disposition of arête,
  • ii) a seriously playful intellectual curiosity, and
  • iii) the desire to know what is good, what is just, and what is right.

Because this is an international exchange course, the usual University of Ottawa online registration system will not be used. Instead, a special application process will take place prior to official registration in the course. Students are therefore advised to add an alternate January Term course at the time of online registration in case they are not selected to participate in the Puerto Rico Exchange. Some students who are not initially selected will be put on a wait list. Every year, a number of students on the wait list are eventually able to enrol.

Additional information about the Puerto Rico Exchange can be found in the Application Form, which can be downloaded here.

Completed applications for the Puerto Rico Exchange must be submitted to: and no later than 12:00 noon E.S.T on Friday July 15th 2016.

Course Materials:

  • The Laws of Robotics ed. Ian Kerr (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2017)