Workshop on the Ethical, Legal and Social Issues of Robots in Therapy and Education



This is the official website for the twinned workshop entitled “ELS of Social Robots in Therapy and Education” between Barcelona and Tokyo. Our aim is to conduct parallel research between Europe and Japan on the ethical, legal and social (ELS) issues concerning the adoption of social robots in the contexts of therapy and education.

The twinned workshop has multiple objectives:

  • Collect all the ELS concerns, problems and difficulties concerning this type of technology – focusing on ethics, privacy and liability
  • Enable discussions on the ELS aspects on an interdisciplinary and multicultural scale
  • Provide a comprehensive roadmap for solving these issues

This twinned workshop brings together researchers from different disciplines, backgrounds and cultures to provide interdisciplinary insights into the current legal and ethical discussions about the impact of robots on society. This will serve to gather different scenarios on the topic. It will deepen our understanding of the real concerns and problems that researchers, teachers, therapists, and legal scholars are currently facing. It will also ensure an appropriate balance between innovation and user rights.


Social robots are increasingly utilized in therapy and education. The therapeutic robot seal Paro, for example, helps elderly patients by soothing their moods and giving them emotional support. While it has shown positive effects on patient wellbeing, Paro as well as other social robots in therapy and education raise a range of ELS concerns.

This twinned workshop aims at addressing such concerns in a constructive and proactive manner. It takes up important ELS challenges that come with the introduction of robots in therapy and education. Firstly, it deals with aspects of human dignity and the questions of whether and how social robots endanger individuals’ dignities for example by implying an overly simplistic model of human agency or by discriminating against certain population groups. Secondly, the workshop revolves around the topic of privacy. In this context, social robots, especially those in therapy and education where vulnerable population groups are involved, come with various privacy challenges: surveillance, access to private rooms, excessive data collection, and complex design architectures which conceal robots’ privacy-infringing behavior (black-boxing). Thirdly, social robots create tensions in society and in legal systems because questions such as who or what should be liable for their autonomous acts remain unanswered. In seeking solutions to the problems encountered, we will consider how to allocate liability to different entities such as manufacturers, users, and robots themselves.

The three overarching ELS issues of dignity, privacy and liability shall be discussed in an open workshop format, with the focus on solutions. Researchers from all disciplines, as well as practitioners, are encouraged to submit abstracts stating the ELS problems to be discussed.


The workshop will be run in two countries during the same month: in Barcelona (Spain) at the New Friends 2016 conference on Social Robots in Therapy and Education; and in Tokyo (Japan) at the International Symposia on Artificial Intelligence. Following the latest trend in Europe to cooperate with Japan in common projects – H2020 or in Minerva,  the twinned workshop will provide parallel interdisciplinary solutions that can enrich future international policies, international standards or guidelines.

(*) The Robot in the website is Hookie, the CEEO – Tufts University low-cost social robot prototype for autistic children. Hookie was developed under this project.