The Ironies of Automation Law: Tying Policy Knots with Fair Automation Practices Principles

Meg Leta Jones · 18 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 1

Abstract

Rapid developments in sensors, computing, and robotics, including power, kinetics, control, telecommunication, and artificial intelligence have presented opportunities to further integrate sophisticated automation across society. With these opportunities come questions about the ability of current laws and policies to protect important social values new technologies may threaten. As sophisticated automation moves beyond the cages of factories and cockpits, the need for a legal approach suitable to guide an increasingly automated future becomes more pressing. This Article analyzes examples of legal approaches to automation thus far by legislative, administrative, judicial, state, and international bodies. The case studies reveal an interesting irony: while automation regulation is intended to protect and promote human values, by focusing on the capabilities of the automation, this approach results in less protection of human values. The irony is similar to those pointed out by Lisanne Bainbridge in 1983, when she described how designing automation to improve the life of the operator using an automation-centered approach actually made the operator’s life worse and more difficult. The ironies that result from automation-centered legal approaches are a product of the neglect of the sociotechnical nature of automation: the relationships between man and machine are situated and interdependent, humans will always be in the loop, and reactive policies ignore the need for general guidance for ethical and accountable automation design and implementation. Like system engineers three decades ago, policymakers must adjust the focus of legal treatment of automation to recognize the interdependence of man and machine to avoid the ironies of automation law and meet the goals of ethical integration. The Article proposes that the existing models utilized for safe and actual implementation for automated system design be supplemented with principles to guide ethical and sociotechnical legal approaches to automation.