August 6, 2020

Open Government Workshop at CITP

Here at Princeton’s CITP, we have a healthy interest in issues of open government and government transparency. With the release last week of the Open Government Directive by the Obama Administration, our normally gloomy winter may prove to be considerably brighter.

In addition to creating tools like Recap and FedThread, we’ve also been thinking deeply about the nature of open and transparent government, how system designers and architects can better create transparent systems and how to achieve sustainability in open government. Related to these questions are those of the law.gov effort—providing open access to primary legal materials—and how to best facilitate the tinkerers who work on projects of open government.

These are deep issues, so we thought it best to organize a workshop and gather people from a variety of perspectives to dig in.

If you’re interested, come to our workshop next month! While we didn’t consciously plan it this way, the last day of this workshop corresponds to the first 45-day deadline under the OGD.

Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency
January 21–22, 2010
http://citp.princeton.edu/open-government-workshop/

Despite increasing interest in issues of open government and governmental transparency, the values of “openness” and “transparency” have been under-theorized. This workshop will bring together academics, government, advocates and tinkerers to examine a few critical issues in open and transparent government. How can we better conceptualize openness and transparency for government? Are there specific design and architectural needs and requirements placed upon systems by openness and transparency? How can openness and transparency best be sustained? How should we change the provision and access of primary legal materials? Finally, how do we best coordinate the supply of open government projects with the demand from tinkerers?

Anil Dash, Director of the AAAS’ new Expert Labs, will deliver the keynote. We are thrilled with the diverse list of speakers, and are looking forward to a robust conversation.

The workshop is free and open to the public, although we ask that you RSVP to so that we be sure to have a name tag and lunch for you.

Robots and the Law

Stanford Law School held a panel Thursday on “Legal Challenges in an Age of Robotics“. I happened to be in town so I dropped by and heard an interesting discussion.

Here’s the official announcement:

Once relegated to factories and fiction, robots are rapidly entering the mainstream. Advances in artificial intelligence translate into ever-broadening functionality and autonomy. Recent years have seen an explosion in the use of robotics in warfare, medicine, and exploration. Industry analysts and UN statistics predict equally significant growth in the market for personal or service robotics over the next few years. What unique legal challenges will the widespread availability of sophisticated robots pose? Three panelists with deep and varied expertise discuss the present, near future, and far future of robotics and the law.

The key questions are how robots differ from past technologies, and how those differences change the law and policy issues we face.

Three aspects of robots seemed to recur in the discussion: robots take action that is important in the world; robots act autonomously; and we tend to see robots as beings and not just machines.

The last issue — robots as beings — is mostly a red herring for our purposes, notwithstanding its appeal as a conversational topic. Robots are nowhere near having the rights of a person or even of a sentient animal, and I suspect that we can’t really imagine what it would be like to interact with a robot that qualified as a conscious being. Our brains seem to be wired to treat self-propelled objects as beings — witness the surprising acceptance of robot “dogs” that aren’t much like real dogs — but that doesn’t mean we should grant robots personhood.

So let’s set aside the consciousness issue and focus on the other two: acting in the world, and autonomy. These attributes are already present in many technologies today, even in the purely electronic realm. Consider, for example, the complex of computers, network equipment, and software make up Google’s data centers. Its actions have significant implications in the real world, and it is autonomous, at least in the sense that the panelists seemed to using the term “autonomous” — it exhibits complex behavior without direct, immediate human instruction, and its behavior is often unpredictable even to its makers.

In the end, it seemed to me that the legal and policy issues raised by future robots will not be new in kind, but will just be extrapolations of the issues we’re already facing with today’s complex technologies — and not a far extrapoloation but more of a smooth progression from where we are now. These issues are important, to be sure, and I was glad to hear smart panelists debating them, but I’m not convinced yet that we need a law of the robot. When it comes to the legal challenges of technology, the future will be like the past, only more so.

Still, if talking about robots will get policymakers to pay more attention to important issues in technology policy, then by all means, let’s talk about robots.

New Podcast: CITP Conversations

Over the last few months, as the pace of activity at CITP has increased, we’ve fielded a growing number of requests from points around the web, and around the world, for podcasts and other ways to “attend” our events virtually. We hear you, and we’re working on it.

Today, I’m very pleased to announce a new CITP podcast, which will carry audio of some of our events as well as brief conversations recorded expressly for the podcast feed. Currently, those conversations include one with Paul Ohm on Net Neutrality and the Wiretap Act, and another with Ed on “Rebooting our Cyber-Security Policy,” drawing on the themes of his recent Thursday Forum talk.

We are also working to offer more of our events in video formats, and we remain open to exploring additional options. Stay tuned!