UCLA Launches Institute to Explore Legal, Policy Impact of Emerging Tech


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To explore how new technology affects society, privacy, government and public policy, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and UCLA School of Law have launched the UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy. The cross-disciplinary institute will examine advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, robotics and new forms of digital media to identify the benefits and risks they represent.

John Villasenor, professor of electrical engineering, public policy, law and management, and Richard Re, professor of law, will serve as co-directors. Supported by a five-year, $10.25 million grant from philanthropists Brad Jones, the Troesh Family Foundation, the Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation, the institute will propel collaboration among faculty and students from the law and engineering schools to conduct research, convene events and engage the public.

On January 24, the institute will host its first symposium, “Algorithmic Criminal Justice?” which will examine the use of algorithms in policing and criminal justice, including approaches to identifying and mitigating algorithmic bias.

Villasenor joined the UCLA Samueli Engineering faculty in 1992, after several years developing imaging technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Villasenor has testified before Congress on issues regarding law and technology.

“To spur innovation and fully realize the extraordinary potential that technology can offer, we cannot look at technology alone,” Villasenor said. “We must also look at the role of legal and policy frameworks.”

Re, a former clerk for now-retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined the UCLA Law faculty in 2014. He is faculty co-director of the Program on Understanding Law, Science & Evidence, or PULSE@UCLA Law.

“Lawyers, judges and policymakers are constantly engaging with the opportunities, challenges and ethical considerations posed by new technologies,” Re said. “An interdisciplinary approach will shed new light on the issues and create future leaders in technology and the law.”

The new institute is one of a number of UCLA programs focused on the intersection of technology and policy, including UCLA Law’s AI PULSE project and Climate Engineering Governance Project; the UCLA Samueli Engineering-led Named Data Networking; and the Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, a joint effort of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and UCLA Engineering.

The Charles Koch Foundation supports research and educational programs in areas such as criminal justice and policing reform, free expression, foreign policy, economic opportunity and innovation.

“UCLA has been at the intellectual forefront of innovation for decades — innovation that has improved the lives of millions,” said Ryan Stowers, executive director of the foundation. “We’re proud to support UCLA’s scholars as they inform and shape dialogue at the intersections of academia, decision-makers and the public. The institute’s work addresses the questions that arise with new technologies and enables people to fully realize their benefits.”

Tony Pritzker, whose family foundation supports numerous UCLA programs and other projects in educational, environmental, family and community work, said, “Rapid advances in technology are creating huge societal shifts that demand interdisciplinary study. UCLA’s leadership in law, engineering and as an incubator of forward-looking ventures makes it the perfect location for this institute.”

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