592.01 Frontier AI & Robotics: Law & Ethics

Robots, with us for several generations already, were long confined to narrow uses and trained users, assembling our vehicles and moving our products behind the scenes. In recent years, robotic tools have begun to step out of the back room and take center stage. Even more, these tools are fueled by constantly advancing artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that allow them to participate in the world of the mind as much as the world of muscle. Are we ready? Probably not. In order to capture the full opportunities and benefits of AI & robotics, surely our legal systems and ethical frameworks must evolve. We must find ways to ensure that human-robot interactions occur in ways that are safe and are consistent with our cultural values. We must take care that our policies and laws provide artificial intelligence tools with the direction we need without quashing or hindering the innovations that could improve our lives.

The course will bring together three core areas: (1) law, (2) ethics, and (3) applied technology. Because frontier technologies challenge existing legal regimes and ethical frameworks, this course and its assigned project encourage law, ethics, and policy students to interact with technologists who are actively thinking about ethical technology development and with technology policy networks that explore the social implications of a world increasingly inclusive of AI.

Beyond time spent with such networks, time spent for class preparation, and in-class time, each student in Frontier AI & Robotics: Law & Ethics will be required to complete a substantial research-based Report that demonstrates a deep, research-based understanding of a topic about which the student shall become knowledgeable such that he/she could take part meaningfully in and contribute to present-day discussions of law, policy, and ethics in the topic area. This Report may qualify for the SRWP requirement upon permission of the instructor.

Coursework will be delivered entirely online. Nonetheless, the community that has always developed among the interdisciplinary participants (law, tech-ethics, public policy, etc.) of this course is one of its primary goals and benefits. As such:

  1. Online sessions will involve substantial participation in small breakout groups that allow for close collaboration on solving real-world problems;
  2. Participation in synchronous sessions on Wednesdays from 4:00 to 6:45pm ET will remain a significant % of the final grade assessment; and
  3. Supplementary, optional opportunities for in-person engagement—such as holding group office hours at the Law School of on a walk around the Washington Duke trail, conditions permitting—with equal opportunities for students who are remote.

Fall 2020

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 20+ pages
In-class exercise
Class participation
Jeff Ward
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.592.01.F20
Email list: LAW.592.01.F20@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - JD-LLM-LE
Course Requirements - LLM
Course Areas of Practice