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Regulation of Unknown: Does the Humanoid Robot “PEPPER” need Red Flag Laws?


Pepper the robot, developed by SoftBank and manufactured by Foxconn, is able to socially interact with human beings based on its emotion reading and learning capabilities. It even has a biomorphic shape, just like us. However, recently a Pepper robot was attacked by a drunkard in Japan in September 2015. This incident is worth discussing, as there may be clues for us to think about the emerging issue for robots to be members of our society. Besides, the incident has been received with immense scrutiny from the public as it is regarding a humanlike sociable machine that was inappropriately treated. Was there anything wrong with Pepper’s emotion reading function, or was man at fault? Furthermore, do we need a new “Robot Law” in regards to regulate the design, manufacture, selling, and usage of advanced robotics? These issues are unavoidable for establishing the human-robot co-existence society.

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Pepper the robot, developed by SoftBank and manufactured by Foxconn, is able to socially interact with human beings based on its emotion reading and learning capabilities via Cloud Computing. Pepper is a highly intelligent machine that can read human emotions, respond our inquires, and interact with human beings. It even has a biomorphic shape, just like us. However, recently a Pepper robot was attacked by a drunkard in Japan. Was there anything wrong with Pepper’s emotion reading function, or was man at fault?

According to the Japan Times from Yokosuka city, Kanagawa prefecture, on a Sunday morning in September, a drunken man entered a local SoftBank store, and he kicked a Pepper robot stationed there. The man was soon arrested by the police. He has admitted to damaging the robot, claiming that he did not like the attitude of a store clerk. Though the clerk was not injured, the damaged robot now moves slower than its original interaction speed.

This incident is worth discussing, as there may be clues for us to think about the emerging co-existence issue for robots to be members of our society. The incident has been received with immense scrutiny from the public as it is regarding a humanlike sociable machine that was inappropriately treated. If the object has been an ATM or vehicle, the moral impact will be much less, as an evolved a sets of ethical principles for sophisticated and intelligent machinery like Pepper have yet to be developed.

A lesson can be learned from 19th century, it was an era before the end of horse-drawn transportation. The origin of human and horse co-existence can be traced to horses ridden by nomadic herders in Central Asia 5000 years ago. With the accompanying inventions of bits, collar harnesses, and coaches, horse-drawn transportation is gradually became a dominant way of land transportation.Eric Morris also pointed out that horses were absolute essentials for the functioning of 19th century cities of Western countries, mainly for personal transportation, freight haulage, and mechanical power. In the meantime, the rise of steam engine technology brought new possibilities for personal transportation. Richard Trevithick invented the world’s first self-propelling passenger-carrying vehicle, called “London Steam Carriage” in 1803, and later “Stockton and Darlington Railway”, the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives, was opened in 1825. Unlike steam locomotives which have their own independent railway networks, steam powered automobiles have to be operated or tested in human living area, especially on public roads. It caused many new social concerns such as how to limit the speed of self-propelled vehicles? and how to ensure pedestrians’ safety. For example, if a horse carriage meets a steam car face to face, what happens next? How can we prevent a horse from getting scared by a steam car’s emitted vapor?,etc…

In the mid-19th century, the UK Parliament made a series of legislation called “Red Flag Laws” to regulate steam powered automobiles. These laws were implemented from 1861 to 1896. However, the regulations were cautious and conservative. For example, the law asked for at least three people to be in charge of the automobile’s operation:  the driver, engineer, and flagman. Furthermore, the flagman should walk slowly preceding the moving car by no less than 60 yards, and wave a red flag or carry a lantern to warn horse riders or pedestrians to ensure safety.

Unfortunately, the effects of the regulation were disappointing. With the exception of holding a red flag, other strict laws including a speed limit of 2~4 mph (3~6 km/h), or additional toll fees for those vehicles adopting non-cylindrical wheels were overruled. Though overruled regulation can effectively reduce risks from emerging new technologies, it might prevent from innovation as well as the progress of the industry. Researchers believe the adoption of Red Flag Laws can explain why UK’s automobile industry fell behind Germany’s and France’s. Ironically, the world’s first steam powered passenger-carrying vehicle came from the UK.

In regards to the Pepper incident, the humanoid robot Pepper is recognized as an “Object of Law”under the current Japanese legal system. Therefore, it is not possible to apply the Article 204 (Injury) of Japanese Penal Code. On the contrary, the man could be sued by the Article 234-2 (Obstruction of Business by Damaging a Computer) or the Article 261 (Damage to Property). As for civil law, based on the Article 709 (Damages in Torts)Pepper’s owner – SoftBank can claim economical compensation to the man regarding any damages resulting in consequence of the attacked Pepper robot.

To the points of the analysis above, an emerging problem might be whether we should consider addressing new regulation impact on service robots.Under the current legal system, service robots are merely a property or “the second existence”; it is not enough to protect safety and moral risks in regards to human-robot co-existence. In other words, the new perspective of regulation shall be established under the premise of service robots as “the third existence” legal entity; robots are still the object of law, and they shall have a special legal status different from normal machines. However, the difficulty of implementing new regulation for service robots is something similar to the case of regulating steam powered cars in the 19th century. It’s a “Regulation of Unknown”.On one hand, such machines could cause lethal consequences to human beings without a proper regulation. On the other hand, it is difficult for regulators to keep up with the progress of advanced technologies. Therefore, there is a tendency of over-regulation, similar to the case of the steam powered cars.

To avoid repeating the Red Flag Laws in the era of intelligent robots, first we can consider “Deregulation” while referring the “Tokku” RT special zone. A special area such as this one can help regulators and manufacturers to find out many unexpected risks during the final stage prior to its practical application. Originated from Japan, the history of RT special zone is merely 10 years long, but there are already many special zones established in Fukuoka, Osaka, Gifu, Kanagawa and Tsukuba. As the development of robotics and its submergence to the society expand, the importance of special zone as an interface for robots and society will be more apparent.

Onthe other hand, we should be aware the importance of public law and regulation. While it does not refer to the debate on issues of robot rights or robots to be recognized as the subject of law from the Constitution, it does mention making public regulation for the design, manufacture, selling, and usage of advanced robotics. A possibility could be developing the “Robot Safety Governance Act”, which is the extension of current machine safety regulations. These technical norms located at the bottom of “Robot Law” will ensure the safety of new human-robot co-existence.

Along with the expanding of robotic technology into human living spaces, the importance of law and ethics will become more apparent and essential. The “Humanoid Morality Act” can reduce the gray zone or moral disputes regarding the usage of service robots.“Humanoid Morality Act” which should be at the beginning of “Robot Law”, will define a proper relationship between human and robots and the use of coercive power to constrain unethical applications of humanoid robotics or cyborg technologies. It will construct a fundamental norm for regulating daily interactions between human and robots. Clues regarding the potential demands for the “Humanoid Morality Act”can be found in the Pepper incident.

Bio-inspired robotics refers to the design a robot from the nature, especially biological mechanisms of animals. It could be a tiny flying robot based on fly’s wing flapping  a wall climbing robot inspired from gecko’s feet grasping, or a soft robot designed by octopus’ locomotion.  At the end, anthropomorphism will be an unavoidable path for bio-inspired robotics, it could be a robot that looks like human,a robot that walks like human, or it could be both in the near future. However, in regards to humanoid robots, they might bring more moral risks than other bio-inspired robots. Take a Sci-Fi film “VICE” as an example: a business man has designed a law-free resort –“VICE”, where the customers can play out their wildest and unethical desires with any robots who look, think, and feel like humans.

With the expectation of sexual intercourse with humanoids,enslaving humanoids, or mistreating them all includes strong moral disputes, there is a legal gap of using humanoids as tools for harassment or bullying human beings. When I gave my presentation at European University Institute (EUI) early this year, I tried to ask audiences what do they want to do if they have a human-like robot? There was a Ph.D. researcher of law that humorously said that he will make fun of me by fooling around with a humanoid robot based on my personal likeness. It could be fun to use robot like this way. However, there is another worry regarding the gray zone between humor and humiliation, and sometimes humans’ evil defeats their moral discipline. We should remember that the Canadian girl Amanda Todd killed herself at the age of 15 due to cyber bullying. What the difference between the Internet and robots is that the former could be a platform to distribute hate speeches, but the latter could be a bullying tool mixed with malice from both the virtual and physical worlds. Therefore, to consider a special regulation beyond moral discipline regarding daily interactions between human and robots will be important for our future.

Finally, robot ethics and legal regulation should not always be in parallel, because from the regulation perspective, robot law is a union of robot ethics and robotics. We might don’t need Red Flag Laws for Pepper robots, but it depends on what moral stands and actions we take toward the regulation of unknown.


Yueh-HsuanWeng, Ph.D. (Peking Uni.)
TECH and LAW Center, Milan
ROBOLAW.ASIA Initiative, Beijing

Robotics and Drones



Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses – Richard M. Thompson II (2013)


Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems & Journalism. Opportunities and Challenges of Drones in News Gathering.

David Goldberg, Mark Corcoran, and Robert G. Picard (2013)


The Great Drone Debate – Amitai Etzioni (2013)


Drones: What Are They Good For? – Jacqueline L. Hazelton (2013)


Drones and Targeted Killing: Defining a European Position – Anthony Dworkin (2013)


The costs and consequences of drone warfare – MICHAEL J. BOYLE (2013)


The Impact of US Drone Strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan – Patrick B. Johnston, RAND Corporation, Anoop K. Sarbahi, Stanford University (2013)


Drones over the homeland: how Politics, money and lack of oversight have sparked Drone Proliferation, and what we can do – Tom Barry (2013)


Drone Wars Briefing. Examining the growing threat of unmanned warfare – Chris Cole, Drone Wars UK (2012)


The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs ,Unanswered Questions (2012)


Living Under Drones. Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (2012)


The Strategic Context  of Lethal Drones. A framework for discussion – Joshua Foust and Ashley S. Boyle


Friends Committee On  National Legislation


Counting Drone Strike Deaths





Robotics Toolbox – Peter Corke (2012)


Introduction to Robotics. Mechanics and Control –  John J. Craig (2005)


Defining Socially Assistive Robotics – David Feil-Seifer and Maja J Mataric (2005)


 – Matthew


Robotic Grasping of Novel Objects using Vision – Ashutosh Saxena, Justin Driemeyer, Andrew Y. Ng


Robotics – Chances and Challenges of a Key Science – Gerhard Schweitzer


Robotics for Engineers – Yoram Koren


How to make your first Robot







Cybersecurity cooperation – Defending the digital frontline:

Cyber Security without Cyber War
Mary Ellen O’Connell (2012)

Defence In-Depth for Cyber Security with Custom Anti-Virus Signature Definition
Markson Aigbodi, Karim Ouazzane, Daniel Mitchell, Vassil Vassilev


Cyberwar and Cyberterrorism

Japan attacked: can we say ‘cyber war’ now?
T. Brewster (2011) 20.09.2011

What is Cyberwar?
J. Carr (2011)

The Rewards (and Risks) of Cyber War
Coll, S. (2012)

Deterrence doesn’t work in cyberspace: CCSA, AOL Defence.
Freedberg S. (2012)

Six Degrees of Desperation: When Defense Becomes Offense
Hoff (2012)

Cyber Armament
Hypponen, M. (2012)

Can the White House declare a cyberwar?
Martinez, J. (1st June 2012)

New Malware Brings Cyberwar One Step Closer
D. Talbot (2011), 20.10.2011

Digital Forensics and Digital Evidence

Google Drive: Forensic Analysis of Cloud Storage Data Remnants

IOS Anti-Forensics: How Can We Securely Conceal, Delete and Insert Data?


Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices

Eoghan Casey and Benjamin Turnbull (Elsevier, 2009)

Digital Evidence: A Guide to Forensics Readiness for Organisations, Security Advisers and Lawyers
Peter Sommer (IAAC, 2012)

Commentary: Defining digital forensics
Ken Zatiko (Forensics Magazine, 2007)

Caught in the cloud: privacy, encryption, and government back doors in the web 2.0 era
Christopher Soghoian (Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law, 2010)

Digital Evidence: Beware of Assuming Too Much
Stephen Mason (2011)

*Thanks to DFA ( for its help on this section

Digital Evidence

Digital Evidence: Beware of Assuming Too Much
Stephen Mason (2011)

Understanding cybercrime: a guide for developing countries


Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Digital Privacy: Theory, Technologies, and Practices
Alessandro Acquisti (Auerbach Pubn, 2007)

Nothing to hide: The false Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security
Daniel J. Solove (Yale University Press, 2011)

Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life
Helen Nissenbaum (Stanford University Press, 2009);gvp=1

Privacy’s Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality
Daniel J. Solove  and Neil M. Richards (Georgetown Law Journal, 2007)