Featured | 02.24.15

Praise the Machine! Punish the Human!

(Image from: International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. May 1957. Advertisement. Broadcasting · Telecasting, 139.)

What will happen to current regimes of liability when driverless cars become commercially available? What happens when there is no human actor—only a computational agent—responsible for an accident?

The Intelligence and Autonomy project has a new paper that addresses these questions by examining the historical emergence and response to autopilot and cruise control.

Praise the Machine! Punish the Human! The Contradictory History of Accountability in Automated Aviation is the first paper in the Intelligence and Autonomy project’s series of Comparative Studies in Intelligent Systems.

Through an examination of technical, social and legal histories, Madeleine Clare Elish and Tim Hwang observe a counter-intuitive focus on human responsibility even while human action is increasingly replaced by automation. They argue that a potential legal crisis with respect to driverless cars and other autonomous vehicles is unlikely. They propose that the debate around liability and autonomous systems be reframed to more precisely reflect the agentive role of designers and engineers and the new and unique kinds of human action attendant to autonomous systems. The advent of commercially available autonomous vehicles, like the driverless car, presents an opportunity to reconfigure regimes of liability that reflect realities of informational asymmetry between designers and consumers. Madeleine and Tim conclude by offering a set of policy principles to guide future legislation.

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