New Technologies and Old Treaties
Bryant Walker Smith, New Technologies and Old Treaties, 114 AJIL Unbound 152–157 (2020).
6 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2021
Date Written: April 27, 2020
Every road vehicle must have a driver able to control it while in motion. These requirements, explicit in two important conventions on road traffic, have an uncertain relationship to the automated motor vehicles that are currently under development—often colloquially called “self-driving” or “driverless.” The immediate legal and policy questions are straightforward: Are these requirements consistent with automated driving and, if not, how should the inconsistency be resolved? More subtle questions go directly to international law’s role in a world that artificial intelligence is helping to rapidly change: In a showdown between a promising new technology and an entrenched treaty regime, which prevails? Should international law bend to avoid breaking? If so, what kind of flexibility is appropriate with respect to both the status and the substance of treaty obligations? And what role should deliberate ambiguity play in addressing these obligations? This essay raises these questions through the concrete case of automated driving. It introduces the road traffic conventions, identifies competing interpretations of their core driver requirements, and highlights ongoing efforts at the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety to reach a consensus.
Keywords: automated driving, automated vehicles, autonomous driving, self-driving, driverless, automation, autonomy, artificial intelligence, international law, treaties, treaty interpretation,United Nations, Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety, Convention on Road Traffic Safety, WP.1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation