611.09 Readings: The Law of Robots & Exponential Technologies

Artificial intelligence technologies are advancing rapidly. Just recently, Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence program, AlphaGo, beat the greatest player in the world, Lee Sedol, at the ancient game of Go, a game in which there are:

208,168,199,381,979,984,699,478,633,344,862,770,286,522,453,884,530,548,425,639,456,820,927,419,612,738,015,378,525,648,451,698,519,643,907,259,916,015,628,128,546,089,888,314,427, 129,715,319,317,557,736,620,397,247,064,840,935

possible moves (in case you’re wondering, that’s more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe!). Self-driving cars (and delivery trucks, and motorcycles, and passenger planes) are being tested on highways around the world. Robots are providing nursing home care to seniors, fighting our wars, manufacturing and testing our everyday goods, and even providing emotionally responsive companionship. Cross-border transactions are happening with virtual currencies, without the use of any bank or, in many cases, the knowledge of any government.

All of these evolutions (if not revolutions) raise significant challenges for the law. And the pace of change in all of these areas is only growing more rapid. How will the law respond to exponential change? What happens when a self-driving car causes an accident? How do the rules of professional responsibility for lawyers respond when we augment our intelligence with rapid machine learning?  When a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) breaches a contract, upon whom do we serve process to initiate legal action? If a robot kills someone, can it possess the criminal intent to be charged with murder? And, even if so, would our current penal system matter to the robot at all?

The Law of Robots & Exponential Technologies aims to explore these questions through a survey of various exponential technologies and the legal regimes they disrupt. The course is meant as an introduction to these issues and, while some questions might be answered and some legal solutions might be found, the aim will be to help students develop a framework for answering these questions now and in the years to come. Students will also consider policy responses in light of the vast changes that may occur in our economic order as machines increasingly displace human labor.

Of three primary ways of analyzing law tech—(1) the law of technology, (2) the technology of practicing law, and (3) the technology of the clients/industries lawyers serve—this course will focus on the first. For those interested in how technology is causing rapid changes in the ways we practice law and the core industries we serve,  please consider the companion course, Frontier Technologies of Legal Practice, which meets at the same time on weeks when this course does not meet (In other words, the courses were designed to allow you to enroll in both).


*This 1-credit fast-track course meets only on the days noted below. Students will be responsible for careful class preparation, participation in class, and periodic response papers. Evaluation will be on a CR/NC basis. No prerequisites.

  • Thursday 9/1
  • Thursday 9/15
  • Thursday 9/22
  • Thursday10/6
  • Thursday 10/27
  • Thursday 11/10

Special Notes:

Meets 6 dates: 9/1, 9/15, 9/22, 10/6, 10/27, 11/10

Fall 2016

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Jeff Ward
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - LLM
Course Areas of Practice
Course Areas of Practice