The Co-evolution of Legal Responsibility and Technology
Chapter 4: The legal and moral responsibility of groups
Within ethics, the literature on the moral responsibility of groups is most relevant to the problems of associative responsibility. That literature provides some guidance on whether it is coherent to ascribe responsibility to groups; if so, which types of groups of might be subject to responsibility; how the responsibility of the group can be distributed to its members; and the “pragmatics” of ascribing responsibility to groups. At the same time, in part because of differences between law and ethics, and because of the nature of the problem, the literature does not provide completely satisfactory answers. Concepts from complexity theory suggest that the problem might be intractable. This is because the “behaviors” of groups might be the nonlinear, emergent phenomena that arise from the complex interactions of individuals and subgroups. This creates an argument that it is hard, if not impossible, to trace causal lines between the actions of individuals and what happens at the group level. In such situations, any responsibility we attribute to an individual for what happens at the group level would necessarily be a fiction. If so, it calls into question our need to rely on the individualistic conception of moral and legal responsibility. Perhaps responsibility can be modified or reconceived to better account for responsibility in general and to better address harms caused by autonomous machines and systems in particular.
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