Legal Committee

Topic 1: Addressing the International Liability of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machine learning and artificial intelligence research and development have taken hold of science, industry, and the public to a previously unprecedented degree in recent years. As these advancements bring AI into the mainstream, and the international community’s spotlight, the larger-scale implications of such technologies have become important to address.

A common misconception is that machine learning and artificial intelligence are interchangeable terms. However, this is not the case. Machine learning concerns the technical concept of creating and training machines to build upon stimuli in order to better execute an objective or program. By contrast, AI is the pursuit of creating systems and programs that function in the same manner as a person. Often in execution though they become intertwined.

Particularly within the realm of AI the question of liability has become extremely important to properly address. If an artificial intelligence breaks a law or violates a treaty, then who is responsible? By most standards AI has not reached a point where it can be considered a fully autonomous agent. Therefore liability for its actions must be assigned somewhere, and it must be decided whether actionability or the ability for technological advancement is more important.

Consider a nation that contracts an autonomous drone to free soldiers from a particularly hazardous area. If the drone were to autonomously execute a strike on a civilian village due to a machine learning error, would the nation be at fault, or should the manufacturer be held responsible? On another note, consider a nation that contracts an autonomous container ship to transport resources for export. If the ship were to cause a crash in a harbor, would the nation or the manufacturer be liable?

In either case a similar issue arises: culpability in an action is not necessarily clear. Either case concerns a technical failure, and while the nation (or ‘user’ in more general terms) did not directly cause the failure, they are the reason why that particular failure caused exactly what damage it did. On another hand, while the contractor (‘manufacturer’, more generally) is not the one responsible for how or where the technology is used, if they presented it as finished and safe then the manufacturer is ostensibly responsible for the nature of its use.

This is where liability becomes difficult to balance. Were the onus to be fully on the users, it becomes far easier to link exact consequences to a nation, state, or organization. However, this risks making the technology inaccessible for any such group without the resources to assume the risk. On the other hand, putting the responsibility on manufacturers risks making the continued development of the technology too much of a liability, and limiting its ability to optimize its benefits — again making AI inaccessible for any group that does not have the ability to fund its research on their own.

How exactly liability should be assigned is some function of that range. What is paramount on an international scale is for there to exist a uniform and internationally recognized procedure for determination. Only in such a case can the risk of an international incident escalating into a conflict be effectively mitigated.

Topic 2: Addressing the Legal Right of Workers to a Livable Wage

As inflation runs rampant around the globe, exacerbated by an increasing wealth gap, the exact number that constitutes a livable wage is ever changing. Even in regions with more progressive labour laws, the previous factors make livability a moving goalpost for many. In regions with less strict labor laws, workers are often subject to abhorrent working conditions and are compensated a relatively modest amount in return. Is this a failure of markets themselves, a failure of governments to properly regulate them, or is this simply how the invisible hand has laid the cards?

This is an issue that is ubiquitous not only geographically, but across all levels of human development. Developing nations face pressure from multinational corporations, and workers are often the ones to foot the bill through harsh labor and little to no protections; developed nations see workers being priced out of housing, and labour laws that fail to keep up with inflation.

In both cases, the question centrally concerns whether or not the free market can adequately address labor. While this may seem at first like a purely domestic issue, when taken in a larger context it becomes clear how exactly the central problem is connected across development levels and continents: opportunities and industries present in developing countries are often a function of demand in developed ones. 

Therefore, one must then ask if on a global level the right to a workable wage is necessary: has the disparity in wealth become a human rights issue? If so, what is the best way to fix it, and who should be responsible for ensuring the change is lasting? On the other hand, if it is not then how should the international community proceed?