Chatbots, social media and the law

The rise of ‘social bots’ has reached a tipping point in 2016, with four of the largest technology behemoths, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook, putting their commercial and technological weight behind bot technology and announcing commercial products. This has been precipitated by the explosion of social media and has given these technologies an incredibly rich ground within which to learn, cause mischief and interact with their human users. The journey to this point has been long and tumultuous with these new technologies causing legal questions throughout their development. Parallel to this, the advent of hyper-scale, cloud-based systems and data analysis, combined with advanced artificial intelligence techniques means the potential for this convergent technology to shake the foundations of our privacy and even legal frameworks needs to be considered.

This paper will examine the history of these social bots, from their humble start as web crawlers and simple, action-orientated algorithms, to the more complicated self-learning bots that roam social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Furthermore, we will look at the complications that arise from teaching bots from social data and explore whether the algorithmic filtering of content used to increase consumer engagement skews or biases a bot’s ability to interact meaningfully across a range of audiences. Finally, we will look at the legal ramifications of social bots as their technology matures by examining the effects of filter bubbles, data collection, social trust and whether bots can have intent. Continue reading “Chatbots, social media and the law”

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Why Robot Cars Should Kill our Children

It is estimated that over 90% of vehicular accidents are caused by human error and inattention (Eugensson, Brännström, Frasher, Rothoff, Solyom & Robertsson, 2013 and Goodall, 2014b) and with the gathering momentum of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, we are close to the cusp of eliminating a large number of fatalities associated with personal transport. While advances in machine vision and learning are propelling the industry forward, the field of machine ethics still lags (Powers, 2011) but with each technological advance, we are getting closer to an inevitability: our vehicles will soon be making ethical decisions on our behalf.

This paper will discuss whether autonomous vehicles should always swerve around children, even if that means hitting other people. To understand the complexities behind a seemingly simple question, we must look more holistically at the state of decision-making technologies and borrow ‘value of life’ quantisation metrics from the healthcare and insurance fields but first it is important to look more generally at the wider questions of how humans make ethical and moral decisions using abstract thought experiments and modelling. Continue reading “Why Robot Cars Should Kill our Children”

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Surface Pro & OneNote: Why I lasted less than a semester without them

I’m currently doing a Masters in Law at the University of Edinburgh — it’s a distance-learning, 100% online course over 20 months. During the summer break, I also started a new job which meant I was given a brand new Macbook Pro to work on. As I got my head around OSX for the first time, I enjoyed using it and found my Surface Pro 2 gathering dust. As such, I sold it and found myself entering my second semester in September with just a Macbook Pro, an iPad Mini, a Windows 10 desktop and a brand-new set of highlighters.

What a mistake. Continue reading “Surface Pro & OneNote: Why I lasted less than a semester without them”

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Chasing a Moving Target: Has Anti-Doping Failed?

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) continues to be in the news recently regarding allegations of widespread doping and subsequent cover-ups. While reading all this coverage, it reminded me of an essay I wrote for my law Masters discussing the premise that doping (and, further in the future, genetic enhancement) was a natural progression of sport and therefore a positive thing. I’ve re-written and expanded on portions here to make it a little more readable. Let the debate commence!


Bleeding edge science often finds itself chasing a moving target. For example, in 1997, chess was seen as the epitome of human intelligence yet as soon Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov, many were quick to extoll the differences between intuition and algorithms and the beauty of the mind’s expertise with the brute force of assessing 200 million chess moves a second.[1] Just as Deep Blue generated discussions on the definitions of “true” intelligence, humanity and many peripheral philosophical discussions, the massive advances in pharmaceutical sciences and, more recently, genetic therapies have opened a similar frontier in athletics —with one key difference.

Artificial intelligence is just that: artificial. Doping and genetic therapies are about “improving” humans and our own abilities to perform and push those boundaries. So while as a society, humans ordinarily embrace and celebrate our technological advances, recent years they have started to impinge on what it means to actually be human. However, ever since humans have competed in sporting and athletic events, they have tried all means available to them to achieve their best possible results.

As such, when Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, argued that “[g]enetic enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport” it was guaranteed to divide opinions. So, was he right? Continue reading “Chasing a Moving Target: Has Anti-Doping Failed?”

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The Unimportance of Immediacy

I’ve barely touched Twitter in the last 3 months — it isn’t that I’m not tweeting, I’m not even checking it. This seemed to happen shortly after I read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, another great book talking about humanity’s adolescent approach to the Internet at the moment. While the overall tone of the book was a little too “doomsday” for me, he had some fantastic ideas on the importance that immediacy has gained in the last few years.

24 hour news, Twitter feeds, Facebook statuses, news aggregators and near real-time search engines are pumping information at us at a pace we’ve never experienced before. As consumers, we’re all expecting and demanding this sort of information, as we’d check Facebook and expect the latest news from our friends, check the BBC News website for minute-by-minute updates etc. However, over time this has had the undesired fact that this immediacy (or at least desire for) is now pervasive.

How many people have noticed their attention span has significantly decreased over the last few years? How many people feel like they’re undergoing withdrawal symptoms when they leave their phone at home? How many of you actively crave your information fix?

I do. Continue reading “The Unimportance of Immediacy”

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The Consumerization of IT (Journalism)

There has been a storm on Twitter and (due to Robert Scoble’s involvement) Google+ recently over bloggers, journalists and the relationship between the two. It seems that Dan Lyons, a technology journalist for Newsweek, was upset — “Hit men, click whores and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Valley cesspool” — and took to his personal blog to vent. Aiming at Michael Arrington and MG Siegler will inevitably draw fire but a week or so later, Lyons has further drawn on the ire of the social media elite by accusing Robert Scoble of trying to employ similar tactics. Scoble very publically rebutted Lyons’ arguments but the argument continues…

For me, a lot of this seems to boil down to one thing: the consumerization of technology journalism. Continue reading “The Consumerization of IT (Journalism)”

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Consumer IT: Services and Simplicity

People often ask me my opinions on various bits of technology they’re considering buying and 2011 has been a year of lots and lots of technology, so I thought I’d write up what technology has impacted me the most over the last 12 months.

Principally, I’ve noticed two trends evolving in the way I approach my personal and professional technology: services and simplicity. Continue reading “Consumer IT: Services and Simplicity”

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