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STEM Seminar 4: Autonomous Systems and the Law

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

The fourth OxNet STEM seminar was led by Professor Rebecca Williams, from Pembroke College, Oxford. The focus of this seminar continued to advance understanding of concepts such as 'autonomy' beyond a purely scientific perspective: this time, the focus was on the legal implications of such an idea. Cornerstones of legal study such as 'causation' and 'liability' were considered in relation to a company which may release an autonomous machine. When something goes wrong with an 'autonomous' piece of equipment, then who is to blame? 'But for' the actions of whom would the mistake not have been made? And how far can this kind of culpability be extended? In order to make these ideas less abstract, Professor Williams encouraged participants to respond to a hypothetical situation: supposing an autonomous braking system on a train malfunctions and causes a train crash, who should be held liable? And what should the process be in understanding what exactly has gone wrong with the braking system in the first place?

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