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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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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This is How I’m Going to Die: Consumer Genetics and Our Access to Knowledge

Over the last decade, the price of genome sequencing has plummeted, leading to the rise of direct-to-consumer personal genomic testing (DTC PGT). The greater accessibility to this genetic information has led to increasing concerns about the validity of this data, the economic burden it could place on the medical and insurance industries and the psychological impact it could have on those unfamiliar with this new information.

Additionally, as PGT becomes more prevalent, so too will the vast quantity of valuable data that these services generate. This has created fears around privacy and the use of personal genomic data in academic research, insurance premium calculations and their effect on existing legislation. All these concerns have led to a rise in calls to increase the regulation that governs the industry.

While there are many valid concerns with DTC PGT, particularly with respect to the quality and efficacy of the information these commoditised services offer, there are also real fears that over-regulation could stifle innovation and prevent consumers access to their own personal genetic data. This paper aims to show that despite the trepidation with DTC PGT, tighter regulation that limits individuals’ access to the information is not the answer. Instead, legislation should focus on the quality, reporting and oversight of the information presented to the consumer, as well as addressing privacy concerns. Continue reading “This is How I’m Going to Die: Consumer Genetics and Our Access to Knowledge”

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