As information machines become increasingly autonomous, not only partial and predetermined aspects of contracting are delegated to them, but also the very deliberations pertaining to whether to enter a contract, with whom, and with what content. After considering the different aspects of autonomy, I argue that the use of autonomous contracting agents involves the delegation of cognitive tasks. Consequently, such agents should be considered the real authors of the contracts they conclude. Not only do they exercise discretion in contracting, but they also have those cognitive states that are relevant to the contracts they form (beliefs, goals and intentions). Consequently, the rules that apply to human agents should in principle also apply to autonomous digital agents. This does not presuppose that digital agents should be granted legal personality, understood as the ability to bear rights and duties, since the normative effects of their activity will fall upon their users. Finally, I consider some of the legal and social issues that may result from the widespread delegation of contracting to digital agents.
Contracting takes place today in a new socio-technological space, the so-called infosphere, based on digital information and information machines. In such a context, several contract-related tasks are either accomplished with the support of machines, or are completely delegated to them. As information machines become increasingly autonomous, not only are partial and predetermined aspects of contracting delegated to them, but also the very deliberations pertaining to whether to enter a contract, with whom, and with what content.
I shall address some emerging dimensions of contracting in the ICT-based infosphere, focusing on artificially intelligent contracting parties.
First, I shall address the embeddedness of contractual activities in active, responsive, and connected informational environments. I will argue that in such environments a vast expansion of contractual interactions is likely to happen, since contracting enables distributed autonomous collaboration between humans and artificial entities, and between such entities themselves. Contractual relations will be entered into by both virtual artefacts (e.g., online bots) and physical artefacts (e.g., autonomous cars), as interactions with physical artefacts take place through their interconnected digital interfaces.
I will then focus on how contracting may take place with and between Autonomous Contracting Agents – ‘ACA’ s. I will characterise the idea of autonomy as including three aspects: independence of action, high-level cognitive skills, and adaptive/teleologic architecture.