When Robots Make Legal Mistakes

15 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2019

See all articles by Susan C. Morse

Susan C. Morse

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 22, 2019


The questions presented by robots’ legal mistakes are familiar to legal scholarship because they are examples of the legal process inquiry described by Hart and Sacks. This inquiry asks when the law will accept decisions as final, even if they are mistaken. Legal decision-making robots include market robots and government robots. In either category, they can make mistakes of undercompliance or overcompliance.

Some robot mistakes are more reviewable than others. The least reviewable kind of mistake is a market robot’s overcompliance mistake. A government robot’s undercompliance mistake is also relatively unlikely to be challenged. On the other hand, a market robot’s undercompliance mistake is open to a government enforcement challenge, and a government robot’s overcompliance mistake is open to a challenge from an aggrieved regulated party.

If robot systems are not explainable, or if courts do not recognize their way of explaining as legitimate under the law, then robots will be less able to defend their actions. For instance, robots will be less able to show that their actions are reasonable, nonnegligent, or consistent with due process requirements. If robots cannot defend their legal decisions due to a lack of explainability, they may respond by making decisions that will avoid the prospect of challenge. This incentive could produce counterintuitive results. For instance, it could encourage market robots to overcomply and government robots to undercomply with the law.

Keywords: robot, artificial intelligence, explainability, Hart and Sacks, overcompliance, undercompliance, legal process, institutional settlement

JEL Classification: K23, K34, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Morse, Susan C., When Robots Make Legal Mistakes (February 22, 2019). Oklahoma Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3340103

Susan C. Morse (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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