Why? The Morality of Law and the Materiality of Things

Autonomous Systems as a Casestudy

Dear Reader

Thanks for dropping by.

My research principally involves analysing regulatory challenges and issues posed by new and emerging communication technologies for traditional approaches to governance. Some of the issues examined in the past include surveillance, identity theft, child online safety, peer-to-peer file sharing controversies, online dispute resolution and managing personal and corporate identities. My current project involves the exploration of legal, ethical, social and technological challenges posed by autonomous systems and robotics as they relate to aging, healthcare and warfare. There are a number of reasons for this tangential shift. First, I am overseeing a project on autonomous systems. That is in itself never a good reason. Second, I was fortunate to work with, and meet some delightful and inspiring colleagues at the Legal, Ethical, and Social Autonomous Systems Symposium (14th November). I am particularly indebted to Michael Fisher, Alan Winfield, Kerstin Dautenhahn and Kerstin Eder for articulating so clearly and powerfully why and how autonomous systems challenge our well-established assumptions about human flourishing, responsibility, accountability and personhood. “Scientists think. Engineers make. Philosophers, well, philosophize”. Lawyers? This leads me to the third reason - lawyers are meant to help solve problems, whether it has to do with drafting rules, interpreting laws or just helping parties order their activities in an efficient and just manner. Lon Fuller’s Morality of Law has long held a fascination for me, both as an undergraduate and a lecturer. Fuller, reminds me how the institution of law is socially constituted - when we forget this, and the lawmaking institution prefers markets to justice, we have chaos. It is a coincidence that the subject of autonomous systems has entered into the crosshairs - discussion about military drones, carebots, affective computing and more recently driverless automobiles. At the Symposium, the issues raised were not only challenging and complex, but they also posed me with an intellectual challenge. I needed a narrative to frame these developments. I am unsure in my mind what the end result is going to be. The path I am proposing to take however is gradually becoming less opaque. A number of friends on Twitter have given me some useful pointers and encouragement. These have fitted in with a framework advocated by Peter-Paul Verbeek in his book, Moralizing Technology: Understanding and Designing the Morality of Things. I have also been inspired by Gunther Teubner and Niklas Luhmann. Teubner’s article, Rights of Non-humans? Electronic Agents and Animals as New Actors in Politics and Law (2006) resonated. I have long taken the legal construct of personhood as a given albeit with the usual caveats. Teubner, Bruno Latour and now Thomas White showed me that we needed an “interpretive turn” that integrated the morality of law with the materiality of things. Our relations with each other are embodied in the materiality of things. I suspect that during this journey of discovery, I will have to go into the uncharted territory of Science Fiction, Heidegger and Nietzsche and the cognitive world, so eloquently captured by Michael Wheeler in Reconstructing the Cognitive World. All this, whilst reminding myself that I am only a Lawyer. As I was sitting in the Symposium, I forgot that I was a Lawyer and felt more like, as Oliver Sacks put it, “an anthropologist” making house calls, and hopefully return to where it all started: What can or should Law (and Lawyers) do when faced with military drones, independent living, carebots for dementia patients and driverless automobiles? Whilst you are here - these are some of the links that I follow when I am not on Twitter (J_Savim)

  1. 21st Century Robotics
  2. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute
  3. Europe Robotics Industry
  4. Mobile Robotics Lab at McGill University
  5. Innovation and Enterprise Research Laboratory by Mary-Anne Williams
  6. Do Lawyers Dream of Electric Sheep? – YouTube
  7. Bay Area Artificial Intelligence Meetup: Cascio’s Law of Robotics
  8. Jamais Cascio Open the Future Page