Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Autonomy

ICub Innorobo Lyon, photo by Xavier Caré

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are routinely said to operate autonomously, exposing gaps in regulatory regimes that assume the centrality of human actors. Yet surprisingly little attention is given to precisely what is meant by “autonomy” and its relationship to those gaps. Driverless vehicles and autonomous weapon systems are the most widely studied examples, but related issues arise in algorithms that allocate resources or determine eligibility for programs in the private or public sector. This article develops a novel typology of autonomy that distinguishes three discrete regulatory challenges posed by AI systems: the practical difficulties of managing risk associated with new technologies, the morality of certain functions being undertaken by machines at all, and the legitimacy gap when public authorities delegate their powers to algorithms.

Forthcoming in the Notre Dame Journal on Emerging Technologies, a draft of the article is available on SSRN.com here.