Dr. Ian Kerr

Dr. Ian Kerr

Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology, University of Ottawa

Ian Kerr holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, with cross appointments to the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Philosophy and School of Information Studies. He has published books and articles on topics at the intersection of ethics, law and technology and is currently engaged in research on two broad themes: Privacy and Surveillance; and Human-Machine Mergers. Building on his prior Oxford University Press book, Lessons from the Identity Trail, his ongoing privacy work focuses on the interplay between emerging public and private sector surveillance technologies, civil liberties and human rights. His more recent work, including his new book, Robot Law (with Ryan Calo and Michael Froomkin), focuses on legal and ethical implications of AI, robotics and implantable devices.

Dr. Kerr’s research has attracted eight million dollars in support from the Canada’s Tri-Council, including recent funding for his work on AI, robotics, artificial organs and medical enhancement devices. His devotion to teaching has earned him several awards and citations and his courses have garnered international attention, with regular invitations to lecture and teach at prestigious institutions around the world. Dr. Kerr is co-author of Managing the Law: The Legal Aspects of Doing Business, a business law text used by thousands of students each year at universities across Canada.


Can Robots Invade Your Privacy? | Wednesday, October 3 at 11:15 AM

Machines are getting pretty good at doing things by themselves. They can sense their environments. They can learn from the data that they have gathered or been given. And, they can make accurate predictions or sound decisions about people and things which can be acted upon without human intervention or oversight. As a result, robots and AIs are starting to outperform human experts in an increasing array of narrow tasks, including driving, surgery, and medical diagnostics. This is fueling a growing optimism that robots and AIs will exceed humans more generally and spectacularly; some think, to the point where we will have to consider their moral and legal status.

But the law does not currently think about robots in this way. For example, when it comes to spying robots or AI used by law enforcement agencies to conduct mass surveillance, privacy law generally applies only when some human comes to know what the robots know. Judge Posner, for example, has famously opined that robots and AIs cannot invade privacy because they are not sentient beings. Indeed, most judges and many lawyers share the view that since robots and AIs are incapable of human-level cognition, they are of no consequence to our privacy—we don’t need to worry about privacy unless or until there are human eyes on the data.

In this keynote address, Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology challenges the traditional view from both a legal and ethical perspective. He argues that when the likes of Siri or Alexa are able to form reliable beliefs about us and are also able to act on those beliefs, the traditional approach of Judge Posner and others leads to the wrong conclusion in law and in ethics.