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Who Owns My Autonomous Vehicle? Ethics and Responsibility in Artificial and Human Intelligence



This article investigates both the claims made for, and the dangers or opportunities posed by, the development of (allegedly), aspiring or “would-be” autonomous vehicles and other artificially superintelligent machines. It also examines the dilemmas posed by the fact that these individuals might develop ideas above their station. These ideas may also limit or challenge the legitimacy of the proposed management and safety strategies that might be devised to limit the ways in which they might function or malfunction.



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1. I was stimulated to start this article in anticipation of attending the “Round table”: Regulating the Tyrell Corporation: Company Law and the Emergence of Novel Beings (WT.208871/Z/17/Z.) Grey’s Inn, London, January 17, 2018 convened by David Lawrence and Sarah Morley. I am indebted to all those who attended. Special thanks go to my colleagues Giulia Cavalieri and David Lawrence for detailed comments and assistance beyond the call of friendship, and to Tomi Kushner for, as ever, the most constructive and insightful editorial suggestions and encouragement.

2. Morris, DZ. Mercedes-Benz’s self-driving cars would choose passenger lives over bystanders. Fortune, October 15, 2016; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

3. In what follows, I give a brief account of autonomy, one consistent with the standard accounts; for example, with that in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, revised January 9, 2015; available at (last accessed 17 Jan 2018). Here, I merely gloss over the many accounts I have myself previously given of autonomy, most recently in Harris, J. How to be Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2016, at 95–8, and 105–8, and with particular reference to AI at 178–9. But see also Harris, J. The Value of Life. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1985, at 195295.

4. Robert Nozick, Feser E. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. n.d.; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

5. Coke, E. The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England. Societie of Stationers; 1628, pt. III, chap. 7:47. I am grateful to David Lawrence for this reference.

6. Slavery was abolished in an 1833 act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This abolished slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions “of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company,” Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Saint Helena. the exceptions were eliminated in 1843). Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, February 14, 2018; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

7. I prefer to speak of “fundamental rights” rather than “human rights” because of the inherent species bias in the use of the term “human” in this context. See Harris, J. Taking the “human” out of human rights. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20(1):920.

8. Bayern, S, Burri, T, Grant, TD, Hausermann, DM, Moslein, F, Williams, R. Company law and autonomous systems: A blueprint for lawyers, entrepreneurs, and regulators. Hastings Science and Technology Law Journal 2017;9:135. Note also that: in the Senate of the United States, December 12, 2017 Ms. Cantwell (for herself, Mr. Young, and Mr. Markey) introduced the following bill, which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; namely, “To require the Secretary of Commerce to establish the Federal Advisory Committee on the Development and Implementation of Artificial Intelligence, and for other purposes.”

9. (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

10. Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. n.d.; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

11. To the extent that such bodies exist outside the United Kingdom

12. I do not here further explore the nature of mind.

13. Shakespeare, W. Henry The Fourth, Part 2, Act III, Scene I, 26–31. In: Craig, WJ, ed. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Oxford and London: Oxford University Press; 1914.

14. Shakespeare, W. MacBeth. Act III, Scene IV, 137–9. In: Craig 1914 (see note 13).

15. Shakespeare, W. Hamlet, Act II, Scene I, 5566. In: Craig 1914 (see note 13).

16. Shakespeare, W. Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III, 217–23. In: Craig 1914 (see note 13).

17. Eliot, TS. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In: Collected Poems. London: Faber and Faber; 1974, at 4.

18. Shakespeare, W. Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2, lines 6875. In: Proudfoot, R, Thompson, A, Kasten, DS, eds. The Arden Shakespeare. Walton-On-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.; 1998.

19. Lawrence, DR. Robotic intelligence—philosophical and ethical challenges. In: Giordano, S, ed. Bridging the Gap between Science and Society. London: Bloomsbury; 2018.

20. Shakespeare, W. Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene III, 967. In: Craig 1914 (see note 13).

21. See note 3, Harris 2016, at 95–6. See also Lawrence, DR, Palacios-González, , Harris, J. The Shylock Syndrome. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2016;25:250–61.

22. For a full account of the logic of refrainings see Harris, J. Violence and Responsibility. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1980.

23. I discussed the latitude afforded humans by the God of the Old Testament in Chapter 4 of How to be Good. See note 3, Harris 2016, at 56ff.

24. For more on autonomy and responsibility see Hart, HLA. Punishment and Responsibility. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1968, chap. IX, Postscript. Glover, J. Responsibility. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1970. Pears, DF, ed. Freedom and the Will. London: MacMillan; 1969. Dworkin, G. The Theory and Practice of Autonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1988. O’ Neill, O. Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2002. Raz, J. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1986. Waldron, J. Moral autonomy and personal autonomy. In: Christman, J, Anderson, J, eds. Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2005. Harris, J. The Value of Life. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1985, chap. 10 and 11. Also see note 22, Harris 1980.

25. Harris, J. Thought and memory. In: Coggon, J, Holm, S, Chan, S, Kushner, T, eds. From Reason to Practice in Bioethics: An Anthology Dedicated to the Works of John Harris. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 2015, at 1630.

26. Kaufmann, T. Luther’s Jews: A journey into anti-Semitism. January 12, 2017; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

27. I cannot remember where I found the lines quoted in the text. There are many extant versions, but I prefer these lines to one of the many alternatives formulations; namely, “Luther then replied: Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.” Martin Luther: Excerpts from his account of the confrontation at the Diet of Worms. January 17, 1997; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

28. Martin Luther and antisemitism. January 19, 2018; available at Ocker, C. Martin Luther and anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. 2018; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

29. See note 2, Morris 2016.

30. Foot P. The problem of abortion and the doctrine of the double effect. In: Virtues and Vices. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; 1978 (originally appeared in the Oxford Review 1967; 5. See also Trolley Problem. February 20, 2018; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

31. Op Cit.

32. Harris, J. The survival lottery. Philosophy 1975;50:81.

33. I think I overheard the suggestion that we might leave trolleys to solve the Trolley Problem for themselves at the meeting referred to in note 1, but I have not been able to identify the source.

34. (last accessed 21 Jan 2018, but not read because it was behind a pay wall). I cite it for others.

35. See note 2, Morris 2016.

36. See note 22, Harris 1980. Harris, J. In search of blue skies: Science, ethics and advances in technology Medical Law Review 2013;21:131–45

37. Winterbotham, FW. The Ultra Secret. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson; 1974. There are conflicting accounts of just how much warning Churchill had of the raid. See Brown, AC. A Bodyguard of Lies. London: WH Allen/Virgin Books: 1976 and Jones, RV. Most Secret War. London: Coronet; 1979, at 204.

38. See note 22, Harris 1980, at 91.

39. Never Let Me Go, February 7, 2018; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

40. Thornton S. Karl Popper. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016; available at (last accessed 22 Jan 2018). See also Popper, K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 2004, at 19; available at"is+based+upon+an+asymmetry+between+verifiability+and+falsifiability%3B+an+asymmetry+which+ (last accessed 18 Jan 2018).

41. Stephen Hawking warns that artificial intelligence could end humanity. BBC News, December 2, 2014; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

42. Rodgers, P. Elon Musk warns of terminator tech. Forbes, August 5, 2014; available at (last accessed 17 Apr 2018).

43. Indeed even human persons find such survival problematic.



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