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Robots as Legal Metaphors

30 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2017  

Ryan Calo

University of Washington - School of Law; Stanford University - Law School; Yale Law School

Date Written: February 8, 2017

Abstract

This essay looks at the role robots play in the judicial imagination. The law and technology literature is replete with examples of how the metaphors and analogies courts select for emerging technology can be outcome determinative. For example, whether a judge sees email as more like a letter or a postcard will dictate the level of Fourth Amendment protection the court is prepared to extend it. But next to no work examines the inverse: when and how judges invoke metaphors about emerging technology when deciding cases about people. Robots represent an interesting case study. The judge’s use of the robot metaphor can be justice enhancing in that it helps translate obscure legal concepts like agency and fault into terms understandable to a lay reader. But the use of the metaphor is also problematic. Courts tend to apply the metaphor to remove agency from individuals whom society already tends to marginalize. Further, judges’ mental models of robots are increasingly outdated, which could lead to judicial error as advanced robots enter the mainstream.

Keywords: Legal Reasoning, Legal Rhetoric, Legal Writing, Judicial Writing, Robotics, Robots, Judges

Suggested Citation

Calo, Ryan, Robots as Legal Metaphors (February 8, 2017). Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2016; University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2913746

Ryan Calo (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

Stanford University - Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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