Autonomous Systems as Legal Agents: Directly by the Recognition of Personhood or Indirectly by the Alchemy of Algorithmic Entities

By: Dalton Powell

At its core, agency law governs fiduciary relationships between two distinct parties (the principal and agent) in interactions with third parties. The three separate relationships within agency (principal-agent, agent-third party, and principal-third party) create binding legal rights and obligations. To be a principal or agent, one must be a person. The Restatement (Third) of Agency’s definition of person attempts to distinguish legally recognized persons from purely organizational entities and mere instrumentalities. The emergence of AI computing, and the ongoing development of truly autonomous computer systems, will test traditional agency law with questions like who or what can be a person. At present, the Restatement views computer programs as mere instrumentalities of the using person and thus not a separate person capable of being a principal or agent. This Note will analyze the tension created within agency law’s definition of personhood by the existence of autonomous systems.
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Cite: 18 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 306

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