We, the Robots? Regulating Artificial Intelligence and the Limits of the Law

Should we regulate artificial intelligence? Can we?

From self-driving cars and high-speed trading to algorithmic decision-making, the way we live, work, and play is increasingly dependent on AI systems that operate with diminishing human intervention. These fast, autonomous, and opaque machines offer great benefits — and pose significant risks.

This book examines how our laws are dealing with AI, as well as what additional rules and institutions are needed — including the role that AI might play in regulating itself.

Drawing on diverse technologies and examples from around the world, the book offers lessons on how to manage risk, draw red lines, and preserve the legitimacy of public authority. Though the prospect of AI pushing beyond the limits of the law may seem remote, these measures are useful now — and will be essential if it ever does.

(If you’ve heard enough and just want the book, the cheapest way is through Blackwell’s here, at £21/$26 with free delivery worldwide — now in paperback! Other options below, including a 20% discount code for CUP where it costs £29/$39. To get straight into the content, you can read the Introduction for free on SSRN.com here.)

Advance Praise

‘Professor Chesterman’s We, the Robots? is a hugely important addition to the growing body of literature on the regulation of AI. Drawing on the author’s rich knowledge of international institutions, the book offers many novel observations on the challenges of AI and how they can be addressed. The chapter on Regulation by AI is particularly impressive in its combination of ground-breaking legal theory and technical insight. The writing throughout is erudite, clear, and methodical. This is a book which deserves to be widely read.’ — Jacob Turner, author of Robot Rules: Regulating Artificial Intelligence

‘An accessible introduction to some of the most important legal questions raised by artificial intelligence, and solutions implemented or explored across a broad range of jurisdictions. The book explains how the speed, autonomy, and opacity of artificial intelligence systems combine to raise questions around responsibility, personality, and transparency, analysing proposals from technology-specific regulation to a new international agency, with a brief introduction to the (potential) role of such systems in legal interpretation, prediction, and decision-making.’ — Lyria Bennett Moses, author of Artificial Intelligence, Robots and the Law and Professor of Law, UNSW Sydney

‘Chesterman’s We, the Robots? is a nuanced and thoughtful perspective on several important themes in the regulation of artificial intelligence. Chesterman compellingly synthesizes a wide range of global perspectives here, including proposals to shape AI via law, and the difficulties of replacing law itself with automated systems. Dialectically comparing the strengths of law and AI as systems of social coordination and control, We, the Robots? offers wise counsel to lawyers and policymakers on the regulation of algorithmic decision-making systems.’ — Frank Pasquale, author of New Laws of Robotics and Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School

‘Current debates and institutional initiatives on how the law should govern technological innovation, such as AI and robotics, should not overlook limits and constraints of such regulatory legal efforts. We, the Robots? provides an insightful analysis both ways — a reference book in the field of the law and AI.’ — Ugo Pagallo, author of The Law of Robots and Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Turin


A ‘surprisingly lively examination of AI regulation.’ — New York Review of Books

‘Chesterman … brings a sober but readable approach to a subject otherwise much given to speculation and fearmongering. He enlivens his work with stories from the real world: accidents involving self-driving cars; stock market collapses caused by automated trading; biases in the opaque proprietary software used to assess the likelihood an individual will default on a loan or repeat a criminal offence.’ — South China Morning Post

‘One of the book’s many virtues is the clarity with which it frames the challenges in question. There is a tendency, as Chesterman notes, to anthropomorphise “intelligent” machines, attributing to them a degree of agency or even sentience that is not (yet) warranted. … [T]he book does a superb job of mapping and organising key issues in the regulation of AI. But it is more than a synthesising exercise. What Chesterman propounds is a typology of automated decisions, with different ethical and legal requirements applying to each category in the typology.’ — Australian Book Review

‘[A] comprehensive and engaging read for anyone interested in better understanding AI, its impact on our legal landscape, and some of the thorniest new issues confronting regulators today.’ — The Interpreter

‘Chesterman judiciously sifts through various types of concerns through these lenses, which distinguishes this book from its peers as unproven weariness that artificial intelligence may cause harm with impunity runs deep in the psyche of those who advocate and overstate the need for new laws. This scholarly analysis makes a welcome contribution to the better understanding of the law’s potential and limit as a regulatory tool to manage human interaction with technological challenges.’ — Asian Journal of International Law

‘As Chesterman mentions in the introduction to the book, “the field of AI and law is fertile,” and there are already books, dedicated journals and thousands of articles that discuss recent developments in AI, its actual or potential impact on the legal profession, and normative questions raised by AI. The majority of them concentrate on the activities of legal practitioners, their potential clients, or the machines themselves. This book, by contrast, Chesterman explains, focuses on those who seek to regulate the activities of AI, and the difficulties that AI systems pose for government and governance.’ — The IPKat

‘I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the future role and function of AI that can be shaped and developed by law and policy makers as well as in law and policy making. It is thought provoking while elucidating on the latest ideas in the study of AI.’ — Singapore Law Gazette

‘I would recommend this book without hesitation to policymakers dealing with AI. The book is wonderfully rich in content. The author has been able to weave together issues of law, ethical principles, philosophy, and pieces of history, to present a coherent and intriguing point of view. What I liked in addition was that the book included in its discussion, China’s approach to AI regulation.’ — Society for Computers and Law

‘Chesterman is able to formulate a remarkably accessible legal argument—one that can be read and understood by both experts and non-experts—without sacrificing the necessary attention to detail or investigative rigor. This not only speaks to the author’s skill as a writer, but it derives from his understanding that deciding these important legal questions is not something that can or should be outsourced to a small number of experts. We all have a stake in how these matters are resolved, and we all need to be able to access and make sense of the opportunities and the challenges that now confront us and our communities.’ — The New Rambler

‘[T]his is a most interesting, concise and precise work, worth reading by anyone interested in the regulation of AI and the limitations of the law in achieving that end. The book makes a very valuable contribution to scholarship in an area of increasing importance for legal regulation domestically and internationally.’ — Law in Context
‘In sum, there is a great deal to like about this book. It is good to welcome a Singaporean voice (and a new angle of approach) to the debates about the regulation of AI; and, it is terrific to see Chesterman leading the way in proposing new global regulatory institutions.’ — Singapore Journal of Legal Studies
‘The book draws a number of historical analogies and offers perspectives and examples from different areas of law, such as criminal law, data protection law, intellectual property law, international humanitarian law. Such a broad overview allows for an extensive examination of the possibilities and limits of the legal regulation of AI. As Chesterman writes, although a lot of research is still to be conducted, the main  purpose of the book is to raise the right questions. The questions that Chesterman raises are basic, important, and timely, and should be addressed in the nearest future by both researchers and practitioners.’ — Global Privacy Law Review
‘El libro de Chesterman, aunque puede escucharse primero como una canción pegadiza, es más bien una fusión de jazz, con sus líneas de bajo, sonidos electrónicos, ritmo original, experimentalismo y sofisticación.’ [Chesterman’s book, although it may first be heard as a catchy song, is more of a jazz fusion, with its bass lines, electronic sounds, original rhythm, experimentalism, and sophistication.] — CIDOB Magazine of International Affairs
‘Noting that the way we live is becoming increasingly dependent on artificial intelligence (AI), Chesterman argues that AI should be regulated to counter its risks and to preserve the legitimacy of public authority.’ — Survival
‘This is what you get, I suppose, when a book offers a tour d’horizon — and make no mistake, the book is a masterful catalogue of practically every issue that has been raised in the past six years of law and technology scholarship.’ — Sydney Law Review
‘Chesterman’s regulatory road map is one worth following. Hopefully, human regulators agree, before the artificial regulators arrive.’ — International & Comparative Law Quarterly
‘What makes the book unique is the past research experience of the author. Chesterman has extensively published in the area of international public law, especially humanitarian law, including on topics such as outsourcing security to private actors or rules of armed conflict. This experience is reflected in many chapters of the book, providing lessons and interesting analogies for the regulation of AI, for example, in the form of outsourcing liability or autonomous weapons. Various examples and analyses of legislation from three distinctive legal systems (EU, USA, and China) provide the reader with much-needed global perspective on selected issues presented in the book.’ — International Journal of Law & Information Technology
‘[F]or readers new to the field of AI in law, this book gives a foundational review of the subject matter and lays an
overview of the current state of AI regulation. The increasing interest by public lawyers in AI … will result in further research
concerning the crossover of public power and AI, and as an introduction to the area this book is an excellent starting point.’ — Public Law

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Longlisted for the Inner Temple Book Prize 2022.

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Or I suppose you could always walk into a bookshop and buy it in person.


For a taste of some of the arguments in the book, my 2021 ICLQ Annual Lecture on the question of legal personality for AI is available here:

Or see the interview I did with Maiko Meguro for the Asian Society of International Law here:

You can also watch a debate I moderated on the question of whether industry or government should take the lead in regulation, available here:

An excerpt from the introduction to the book is available on the CUP website here. You can also read articles that road tested ideas developed more fully in the book, including this piece on legal personality in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly or this one on opacity in the American Journal of Comparative Law. For a longer list of past work in the area, click here.