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Fall 2019: Robot Revolution:
Legal, Ethical and Policy Challenges of Robotics in the US and Japan


How can and should societies effectively manage their rapidly aging populations, shrinking workforces, shortages of doctors and nurses, high rates of highway fatalities, decreases in industrial production, autonomous weapons systems, immigration policies, and other vexing 21st century challenges? Government and industry leaders in both Japan and the United States have a single answer—Robots. Both countries are at the forefront of the global race to develop robots, and both have presented blueprints for how robots will solve their most intractable social problems. Yet neither nation has developed a legal or policy structure that effectively and comprehensively addresses the widespread deployment of robots.

Should robots be entrusted with important policy decisions? Do we want them to perform surgery, calculate our taxes, and work as lawyers? Can they be held liable for negligent acts when piloting a moving vehicle? Are they subject to strict product liability? Ought we develop a robot army that can vanquish our enemies and keep us safe? Can robots provide emotional and even sexual fulfillment? With the global competition to develop robots at full throttle, these questions have taken on a new sense of urgency.

This innovative Global Research Seminar will focus on the current state of robot technology and development in the US and Japan and explore the rapidly evolving legal, ethical and regulatory climate surrounding robotics. We will read cutting-edge scholarship on artificial intelligence and machine learning, study state-of-the-art humanoid robots, examine robot-related litigation, and consider the range of legal and policy options for managing the inevitable (but often unknowable) conflicts that will result from the robot revolution. Because we are working in a nascent area of scholarship students will have the opportunity to do original research on unexplored topics and may be able to publish their work.


This course will meet weekly on Mondays from 1:00-3:00pm during the fall 2019 semester. Some classes will host distinguished guest speakers with expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence, technology, and law. The class will spend the week of November 11-15, 2019 in Tokyo meeting with government regulators, industry leaders, engineers, attorneys, scholars, and other experts in order to obtain an in-depth and up-to-date understanding of the development and regulation of robots in Japan.

Please note that Penn Law will be in session during the week of November 11, and students in the GRS will be missing their regularly scheduled classes. In order to be eligible for this class, students must be able to attend the entirety of this research trip.


Students are responsible for arranging and paying for their own transportation to/from Japan. Students must arrive on November 9th/10th and depart on November 16th/17th, 2019. There will be no exceptions for late arrivals or early departures.

In addition to airfare, students will be charged a $900 program fee (for accommodations, in-country transportation and other programmatic expenses.) The trip fee assumes double occupancy accommodations. Some meals and cultural excursions will be covered by the program fees, but students will be expected to cover additional meals, sightseeing activities and incidental expenses.

Penn Law will provide partial or full financial aid to qualifying students. Students are also able to increase their loans to cover costs associated with this trip. After enrollment is determined, students seeking financial aid will be asked to provide a separate letter explaining the basis for their need. Financial aid decisions will be made before the end of the drop/add period.


This class is open to 2L, 3L, and LLM students; there are no pre-requisites for enrolling in the seminar. The application deadline is Friday, July 12. In order to be considered for the seminar, students must follow the instructions provided via the online form below. Applicants must submit a short personal statement (of no more than 350 words) describing their reasons for wanting to take this class and their interest in the topic together with a resume and unofficial transcript. As noted previously, only students who are able to be a part of the November research trip should apply.

Application Instructions