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Saturday, September 9 • 2:33pm - 3:05pm
Siri, Who's the Boss? For Whom Do Intelligent Agents Work?

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Intelligent agents are already here. They exist not only in our smartphones (Apple’s Siri), but increasingly, in our homes (Amazon’s Alexa) and vehicles – consider the workings of the semi-self-driving Tesla. Not too long ago, the view that computers and computer programs were mere tools of the person using them was seen as incontestable. But increasingly, policymakers are confronting the possibility that computer programs may develop the capacity to act as agents in the legal sense.

This Article confronts three different established paradigms by which to answer a potentially very important legal question: For whom do intelligent agents work? The answer to this question may affect liability under a variety of legal regimes, including contract, tort and competition law – and looking forward, as the capacity for agency increases, labor and anti-discrimination law. First, contract law might answer that intelligent agents’ true masters are defined by their terms of service – but a review of these agreements reveals key contract formation problems. Second, agency law might suggest that users – who chiefly direct these intelligent agents – are their masters, though current agency law’s fixation with software as a “mere tool” of its user oversimplifies the relationship. Finally, competition law and its “single entity” doctrines focuses less on form than on function; however, intelligent agents may perform both economic and noneconomic functions that might require more varied treatment than competition law provides. As a result, this Article concludes that, initially, a sliding scale based on the degree of economic versus non-economic function should be used to determine the standard to be applied to decide for whom intelligent agents work.


Gigi Sohn

Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy
Net Neutrality, Broadband Policy, Mergers, Privacy, Content Moderation

Saturday September 9, 2017 2:33pm - 3:05pm EDT
ASLS Hazel Hall - Room 221

Attendees (7)