Should robots be granted a limited legal personhood? It might be good for all of us, says one lawyer-commentator. (photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Should robots be granted a limited legal personhood? It might be good for all of us, says one lawyer-commentator. (photo: Wikimedia Commons).

This Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council takes up suggested changes to the City code that would regulate the use of unmanned aerial systems—drones—in city parks. Based on some public debate I’ve heard about the issue, anything adopted is likely to be based little on science and much on stalling technology we don’t yet understand. But whatever. Somewhere, the FAA chuckles.

(I also have to wonder about the role drone restrictions will play in the STEM gap that already affects urban neighborhoods more than suburban ones. Commentary I’ve heard suggested that urban areas are simply “too congested” for recreational or other drone use, and they should be allowed only in the suburbs. So here would be another cutting-edge technology kept far away from urban schoolkids. I’m guessing future college freshmen will be less than competitive touting their kite-flying skills.)

This morning I read an interesting essay that explores humans’ convoluted relationship with machines. It may go some way toward explaining our often knee-jerk reaction against these strange contraptions that can do so much that we cannot.

Written by a Boston lawyer, the essay is part of a nationwide project called Future Tense that includes Arizona State University—it’s worth keeping track of. (As they describe it, “Future Tense [is] a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate.”)

Attorney John Frank Weaver analogizes humans’ evolving view of animal protections and suggests a similar approach would benefit us in regard to machines. Like animals, machines and how we treat them say a lot about us, and those interactions have moral implications. And it’s not just the “cute” animals that need legal protections, he argues. We also need to safeguard the more ugly machines. As he writes:

“[I]n focusing on laws that protect how we socialize with anthropomorphized robots, we need to make sure not to ignore plainer robots. They need legal protections, too. In fact, I have gone so far as to recommend that we should grant them limited legal personhood. It’s not because we should empathize with them—it’s because laws governing interactions with ugly bots could improve their utility and benefit to humans.”

Did someone say drone?

Read the whole piece here.

Ugly robots deserve protection and maybe some love too

Ugly robots (even drones) deserve protection and maybe some love too.

The World Trade Center's twin towers as they appeared in the New York Times, 1971.

The World Trade Center’s twin towers as they appeared in the New York Times, 1971.

On this somber American anniversary, I’ve seen a lot of coverage of multiple aspects of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

As this is Change of Venue Friday, I recall the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center in the southern end of Manhattan. But I’m most intrigued not with the structures as they were viewed on that fateful day. Instead, let’s recall how those iconic buildings were viewed for decades in New York and in the popular imagination.

New York's World Trade Center under construction.

New York’s World Trade Center under construction.

Given how massive the towers were, it’s probably no surprise that they were not uniformly loved by neighbors and others. Their “superblock” design obliterated the human sense of scale that had characterized the neighborhood. That, plus, the elimination of a historic grid streetscape and the razing of many longtime businesses in “Radio Row,” made the buildings’ construction controversial. You can read more about it here.

This was the "Radio Row" neighborhood of Manhattan in 1936. The streets didn't look much different when they were transformed decades later to make way for the World Trade Center (photo via Wikimedia by Berenice Abbott).

This was the “Radio Row” neighborhood of Manhattan in 1936. The streets didn’t look much different when they were transformed decades later to make way for the World Trade Center (photo via Wikimedia by Berenice Abbott).

From a legal standpoint, I was struck by the meager compensation business owners received when eminent domain plowed down their structures to make way for the towers:

“In compensation for Radio Row business owners’ displacement, the [Port Authority of New York and New Jersey] gave each business $3,000 each, without regard to how long the business had been there or how prosperous the business was. After the area had been purchased for the World Trade Center in March 1964, Radio Row was demolished starting in March 1965. It was completely demolished by 1966.”

As you can see in the ad below, the twin towers triggered the creative imagination. They were like columns of Manifest Destiny aimed at the sky.

Everyone involved with the twin towers—even the asbestos industry—took pride in their participation in the building’s construction.

Everyone involved with the twin towers—even the asbestos industry—took pride in their participation in the building’s construction.

I have a cousin who once worked as a waiter at Windows on the World, which was amazingly profitable: “In 2000, its last full year of operation, Windows on the World reported revenues of $37 million, making it the highest-grossing restaurant in the United States.” Fortunately, he was not working there in the early 2000s.

When it comes to iconic but sometimes oversized structures, perhaps I like them most from a distance. A number of years ago, I happened across a terrific poster in a midtown Phoenix vintage store; you can see it below. The artist’s rendition of New York included the towers, but as a backdrop to the vibrant life of the city. That’s how I like to remember the World Trade Center, as a large but ultimately appreciated part of Manhattan. The towers ultimately became a sad part of U.S. history. But they also remain a seminal part of modern urban life.

The twin towers of New York's World Trade Center ultimately became a dominant icon in a city filled with icons.

The twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center ultimately became a dominant icon in a city filled with icons.

Are you in need of a cosmopolitan pick-me-up, perhaps to perch on your own desk?

If so, New York in a Bag may be the ticket.

On this Change of Venue Friday, I share a small item that my sister- and brother-in-law got for me when they recently traveled East. As we enter the holiday-laden months, you may find that it suits your workspace, or that of a colleague.

Here’s the burgeoning little berg, carved out of wood (the coin is for size comparison).

 

The NY set includes the Chrysler Building, Statue of Liberty, Guggenheim Museum, the original Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) buildings, and six cars.

And yes, there IS a bag.

Japanese firm MUJI manufactures these unique sets of blocks—and then packs them in a bag, hence the name. According to MUJI, they’re made of sustainable wood. And they’re as charming as all get-out.

One of the best places to purchase it is MOMA itself.

New York not your choice of great cities? You also may choose other locales, including Barcelona, Tokyo, London, Italy or Paris—or more. Use your imagination and create your own wooden metropolis.

I’ve also been led to believe that they have created Outer Space in a Bag and Suburbia in a Bag, but I haven’t been able to locate them to purchase. If you do, let me know.

Have a globe-trotting weekend.