Artificial Intelligence & Robotics

We are entering a new era for technology policy in which many pundits and policymakers will use “algorithmic fairness” as a universal Get Out of Jail Free card when they push for new regulations on digital speech and innovation. Proposals to regulate things like “online safety,” “hate speech,” “disinformation,” and “bias” among other things often raise thorny definitional questions because of their highly subjective nature. In the United States, efforts by government to control these things will often trigger judicial scrutiny, too, because restraints on speech violate the First Amendment. Proponents of prior restraint or even ex post punishments understand this reality and want to get around it. Thus, in an effort to avoid constitutional scrutiny and lengthy court battles, they are engaged in a rebranding effort and seeking to push their regulatory agendas through a techno-panicky prism of “algorithmic fairness” or “algorithmic justice.”

Hey, who could possibly be against FAIRNESS and JUSTICE? Of course, the devil is always in the details as Neil Chilson and I discuss in our new paper for the The Federalist Society and Regulatory Transparency Project on, “The Coming Onslaught of ‘Algorithmic Fairness’ Regulations.” We document how federal and state policymakers from both parties are currently considering a variety of new mandates for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automated systems that, if imposed, “would thunder through our economy with one of the most significant expansions of economic and social regulation – and the power of the administrative state – in recent history.” Continue reading →

For my latest Discourse column (“We Really Need To ‘Have a Conversation’ About AI … or Do We?”), I discuss two commonly heard lines in tech policy circles.

1) “We need to have conversation about the future of AI and the risks that it poses.”

2) “We should get a bunch of smart people in a room and figure this out.”

I note that, if you’ve read enough essays, books or social media posts about artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics—among other emerging technologies—then chances are you’ve stumbled on variants of these two arguments many times over. They are almost impossible to disagree with in theory, but when you start to investigate what they actually mean in practice, they are revealed to be largely meaningless rhetorical flourishes which threaten to hold up meaningful progress on the AI front. I continue on to argue in my essay that:

I’m not at all opposed to people having serious discussions about the potential risks associated with AI, algorithms, robotics or smart machines. But I do have an issue with: (a) the astonishing degree of ambiguity at work in the world of AI punditry regarding the nature of these “conversations,” and, (b) the fact that people who are making such statements apparently have not spent much time investigating the remarkable number of very serious conversations that have already taken place, or which are ongoing, about AI issues.

In fact, it very well could be the case that we have too many conversations going on currently about AI issues and that the bigger problem is instead one of better coordinating the important lessons and best practices that we have already learned from those conversations.

I then unpack each of those lines and explain what is wrong with them in more detail. Continue reading →

[Cross-posted from Medium.]

In an age of hyper-partisanship, one issue unites the warring tribes of American politics like no other: hatred of “Big Tech.” You know, those evil bastards who gave us instantaneous access to a universe of information at little to no cost. Those treacherous villains! People are quick to forget the benefits of moving from a world of Information Poverty to one of Information Abundance, preferring to take for granted all they’ve been given and then find new things to complain about.

But what mostly unites people against large technology platforms is the feeling that they are just too big or too influential relative to other institutions, including government. I get some of that concern, even if I strongly disagree with many of their proposed solutions, such as the highly dangerous sledgehammer of antitrust breakups or sweeping speech controls. Breaking up large tech companies would not only compromise the many benefits they provide us with, but it would undermine America’s global standing as a leader in information and computational technology. We don’t want that. And speech codes or meddlesome algorithmic regulations are on a collision course with the First Amendment and will just result in endless litigation in the courts.

There’s a better path forward. As President Ronald Reagan rightly said in 1987 when vetoing a bill to reestablish the Fairness Doctrine, “History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee.” In other words, as I wrote in a previous essay about “The Classical Liberal Approach to Digital Media Free Speech Issues,” more innovation and competition are always superior to more regulation when it comes to encouraging speech and speech opportunities.

Continue reading →

[Cross-posted from Medium.]

[Cross-posted from Medium]

There are two general types of technological governance that can be used to address challenges associated with artificial intelligence (AI) and computational sciences more generally. We can think of these as “on the ground” (bottom-up, informal “soft law”) governance mechanisms versus “on the books” (top-down, formal “hard law”) governance mechanisms.

Unfortunately, heated debates about the latter type of governance often divert attention from the many ways in which the former can (or already does) help us address many of the challenges associated with emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and robotics. It is important that we think harder about how to optimize these decentralized soft law governance mechanisms today, especially as traditional hard law methods are increasingly strained by the relentless pace of technological change and ongoing dysfunctionalism in the legislative and regulatory arenas.

Continue reading →

For my latest column in The Hill, I explored the European Union’s (EU) endlessly expanding push to regulate all facets of the modern data economy. That now includes a new effort to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) using the same sort of top-down, heavy-handed, bureaucratic compliance regime that has stifled digital innovation on the continent over the past quarter century.

The European Commission (EC) is advancing a new Artificial Intelligence Act, which proposes banning some AI technologies while classifying many others under a heavily controlled “high-risk” category. A new bureaucracy, the European Artificial Intelligence Board, will be tasked with enforcing a wide variety of new rules, including “prior conformity assessments,” which are like permission slips for algorithmic innovators. Steep fines are also part of the plan. There’s a lengthy list of covered sectors and technologies, with many others that could be added in coming years. It’s no wonder, then, that the measure has been labelled the measure “the mother of all AI laws” and analysts have argued it will further burden innovation and investment in Europe.

As I noted in my new column, the consensus about Europe’s future on the emerging technology front is dismal to put it mildly. The International Economy journal recently asked 11 experts from Europe and the U.S. where the EU currently stood in global tech competition. Responses were nearly unanimous and bluntly summarized by the symposium’s title: “The Biggest Loser.” Respondents said Europe is “lagging behind in the global tech race,” and “unlikely to become a global hub of innovation.” “The future will not be invented in Europe,” another analyst bluntly concluded. Continue reading →

[last updated 10/9/2022]

As I continue to work hard to complete my new book project on the governance of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotics, I thought I would start a running list of all the essays and reports I’ve already rolled out on these issues just so I can keep track of everything. I also want to use this as an opportunity to seek out potential intellectual allies in what will become the biggest technology policy battle of the next decade.

Why have I decided to spend so much time on this issue? Because this will become the most important technological revolution of our lifetimes. Every segment of the economy will be touched in some fashion by AI, ML, robotics, and the power of computational science. It should be equally clear that public policy will be radically transformed along the way.

Eventually, all policy will involve AI policy and computational considerations. As AI eats the world, it eats the world of public policy along with it. The stakes here are profound for individuals, economies, and nations. As a result, AI policy will be the most important technology policy fight of the next decade, and perhaps next quarter century. Those who are passionate about the freedom to innovate need to prepare to meet the challenge as proposals to regulate AI proliferate.

There are many socio-technical concerns surrounding algorithmic systems that deserve serious consideration and appropriate governance steps to ensure that these systems are beneficial to society. However, there is an equally compelling public interest in ensuring that AI innovations are developed and made widely available to help improve human well-being across many dimensions. And that’s the case that I’ll be dedicating my life to making in coming years.

I have so many forthcoming essays and papers planned that I can’t begin to list them all here, but stay tuned because much more is to come. Anyway, here’s the list of what I’ve done so far. I will continue to update this as more material is released: Continue reading →

For my latest regular column in The Hill, I took a look at the trade-offs associated with the EU’s AI Act. This is derived from a much longer chapter on European AI policy that is in my forthcoming book, and I also plan on turning it into a free-standing paper at some point soon. My oped begins as follows:

In the intensifying race for global competitiveness in artificial intelligence (AI), the United States, China and the European Union are vying to be the home of what could be the most important technological revolution of our lifetimes. AI governance proposals are also developing rapidly, with the EU proposing an aggressive regulatory approach to add to its already-onerous regulatory regime.

It would be imprudent for the U.S. to adopt Europe’s more top-down regulatory model, however, which already decimated digital technology innovation in the past and now will do the same for AI. The key to competitive advantage in AI will be openness to entrepreneurialism, investment and talent, plus a flexible governance framework to address risks.

Jump over to The Hill to read the entire thing. And down below you will find all my recent writing on AI and robotics. This will be my primary research focus in coming years.

Continue reading →


Continue reading →

On Thursday, June 9, it was my great pleasure to return to my first work office at the Adam Smith Institute in London and give a talk on the future of innovation policy and the governance of artificial intelligence. James Lawson, who is affiliated with the ASI and wrote a wonderful 2020 study on AI policy, introduced me and also offered some remarks. Among the issues discussed:

  • What sort of governance vision should govern the future of innovation generally and AI in particular: the “precautionary principle” or “permissionless innovation”?
  • Which AI sectors are witnessing the most exciting forms of innovation currently?
  • What are the fundamental policy fault lines in the AI policy debates today?
  • Will fears about disruption and automation lead to a new Luddite movement?
  • How can “soft law” and decentralized governance mechanism help us solve pressing policy concerns surrounding AI?
  • How did automation affect traditional jobs and sectors?
  • Will the European Union’s AI Act become a global model for regulation and will it have a “Brussels Effect” in terms of forcing innovators across the world to come into compliance with EU regulatory mandates?
  • How will global innovation arbitrage affect the efforts by governments in Europe and elsewhere to regulate AI innovation?
  • Can the common law help address AI risk? How is the UK common law system superior to the US legal system?
  • What do we mean by “existential risk” as it pertains to artificial intelligence?

I have a massive study in the works addressing all these issues. In the meantime, you can watch the video of my London talk here. And thanks again to my friends at the Adam Smith Institute for hosting!

Continue reading →