Report on Concurring Opinions Symposium on Artificial Agents – I

The Concurring Opinions online symposium on my recently-released book A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents (University of Michigan Press, 2011) wrapped up yesterday. The respondents to the book blogged on it from Tuesday till Thursday last week; from Friday till Monday I spent most of my time putting together responses to the excellent responses offered by the participants; I also replied to comments made by blog readers (two of whom, Patrick S. O’Donnell and AJ Sutter, provided very thoughtful and critical commentary).

Frank Pasquale (Seton Hall) organized the symposium and announced it on the blog on February 2nd.  The symposium was kicked off by Sonia Katyal (Fordham) who responded to the book’s argument for legal personhood for artificial agents. While positive in her response, Katyal was curious about whether a strong enough case for legal personhood had been made yet (compared to the historical case for corporations for instance). (This was useful in helping me think about how such a legal-empirical case could be made for artificial agents’ legal personhood, something I alluded to in my response.)

James Grimmelmann (New York Law School) then followed up with a post that addressed the law’s response to complex systems and pointed out that responding to the presence of artificial agents could or would draw upon some of those patterns of response. (Sonia and James had started things a little early so my introductory post on artificial agents showed up after theirs!) James also wrote a follow-up to his first piece, which further elaborated on some of law’s strategies for dealing with complexity, pointing out the grant of personhood was not inevitable. These posts were very useful in illustrating the law’s pragmatic stance towards the presence of complex systems. (Danielle Citron (Maryland), incidentally, wrote a reminder of how automated decision making has been causing a headache for administrative law; in the original version of our book we had begun work on a chapter that addressed this but left it on the cutting floor; it would be good to resurrect that at some point.)

Lawrence Solum (Georgetown and Illinois), who has been writing at the intersection of philosophy and law for many years, then wrote a post suggesting that some dimensions of the problem of artificial agents’ legal personhood could be illustrated by a thought experiment involving zombies.  (I drew upon this thought experiment with another one of my own: how would we respond to extraterrestrials that petitioned for legal personhood?)

Frank Pasquale then pointed out how bots were being used for political campaigning and could be said to be contributing to political speech; this was really quite a provocative and fascinating post and I regret not having addressed it over at CO in my responses. I will do so soon here.

Ugo Pagallo (Georgetown and Turin), staying with the legal personhood theme, then questioned several aspects of our personhood argument, (while agreeing with our agency analysis in earlier parts of the book). In my response to Ugo, I suggested we were in greater argument than it might have originally seemed. Ramesh Subramanian (Yale ISP and Quinnipiac), meanwhile, took the argument for legal personhood seriously, and wondered more broadly about what some of its futuristic implications could be.

I will have another post tomorrow with summaries and descriptions of the various responses and the discussions that followed. This was an exhausting and invigorating experience in more ways than one.

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