January 23 Tuesday

The Political Economy of Killer Robots: Rethinking the Supply and Distribution of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, Frank Pasquale, University of Maryland

  • Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 12:10PM - 1:30PM
  • Room 121
  • Open To The YLS Community Only
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Debate on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) has taken on a familiar structure. Abolitionists call for a ban, “realists” reject that approach, and reformers occupy a middle ground by proposing regulation short of an outright ban. Abolitionists and regulators are now engaged in spirited arguments about the value of each side’s approach. But the two groups’ strategies may eventually harmonize. Reformers acknowledge that some types of weapons systems are so dangerous that they should never be built. Abolitionists concede that some defensive uses of automation (particularly in cyberwarfare) are necessary for national security.
Both abolitionists and regulators deserve great credit for engaging in lawfare to promote human values in the development of military technology. However, their work could be unraveled by arms race dynamics that realists both recognize and promote. Not just the design, but also the ubiquity, of LAWS matters—and their prevalence hinges on the expense of lethal robots’ components (including sensors, actuators, processors, and explosives), maintenance, and deployment. As William Baumol has argued, value-neutral economic analysis risks promoting the proliferation of not only services and goods, but also “bads,” thanks to its focus on market procedures and efficiency.  By contrast, a political-economic  approach starts with questions of distribution and a substantive vision of what a just social order entails. It complements both abolitionist and reformist approaches to LAWS by bringing questions of resource allocation to the center of arms control policy.

Frank Pasquale researches the law and policy of big data, artificial intelligence, and algorithms. He is a co-founder of the Association for the Promotion of Political Economy and Law (APPEAL). He has testified before or advised groups including the US Department of Health and Human Services, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Banking Committee, House Energy & Commerce Committee, and Federal Trade Commission, as well as directorates-general of the European Commission.

Frank is the author of The Black Box Society (Harvard University Press, 2015). The book developed a social theory of reputation, search, and finance, which has recently been elaborated in articles including "Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism." He has served as a member of the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, & Society, a visiting fellow at Cambridge and Princeton Universities, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, and a visiting scholar at National Taiwan University.

Frank is one of the 10 most cited US scholars in health law, according to a study published on Harvard Law School's Bill of Health blog in 2017. He has co-authored a casebook on administrative law and co-authored or authored over 50 scholarly articles. He co-convened the conference "Unlocking the Black Box: The Promise and Limits of Algorithmic Accountability in the Professions" at Yale University, and a roundtable on Medical Automation and Robotics Law & Policy at the University of Maryland. He is now at work on a book tentatively titled Laws of Robotics: Revitalizing Professions in an Era of Automation (under contract to Harvard University Press).

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