Abstract landscape made of tiny cubes and human-like face, artificial intelligence concept

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the recognition or creation of patterns that simulate human actions or thought. Since the late 1970s, when people began regularly interacting with computers, AI has become increasingly prevalent, and uses of AI technology continue to create greater opportunities for interaction with human norms — those rules that define acceptable behavior. The intersection of those norms and AI processes that seek to replace human actions where efficiency calls for it is also an intersection of expectations and the law ― one that is changing and adapting quickly.

The recent article “AI–human interaction: Soft law considerations and application,” published in the Journal of AI, Robotics & Workplace Automation, discusses these issues. In particular, the article considers several primary concepts:

  • The history of AI and how its purpose, usability and interaction with humans have evolved in the past 50 years.
  • One potential challenge to AI is the Uncanny Valley, or those instances where robots create a digital presence that is indistinguishable from a real human that can induce mental uneasiness when humanlike appearances create expectations that robots cannot meet.
  • The Turing test, a concept anticipated by AI pioneers, as a method of inquiry for determining whether a computer is actually capable of thinking like a human being.
  • How chatbots launched by technology corporations have recently demonstrated the risks and ethical challenges that advancement to AI presents.
  • The necessity of soft law to address the risks presented by increased use of AI as the industry progresses, and how legislative bodies have already begun addressing those risks. 

Examining these issues, the article begins by tracing the history of AI from personal computing in the 1970s, when software and computer platforms were being developed with the goal of making everyone a computer user. As computers became a part of daily life, the field of cognitive engineering, a scientific field merging how people think and the engineering of products to address human needs, developed with the goal of increased efficiency worldwide. Human interaction with computers then progressed actively for decades, conforming to usability and aiming to reflect changes in society. And today, everyone is “plugged in” in some way in nearly every part of their existence, especially given the virtual and remote world designed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. AI has not only adapted to these changes but continues to evolve, and the use of AI is shaping up to create a new normal.

The rapid maturation of the industry has set off related calls for action in the legal and regulatory communities. The article considers these movements and posits that soft law is the ideal step to address AI innovations, especially when considering how certain legislative bodies (including the California Legislature) have frameworks addressing how AI communicates with the public. As noted in the article, because “this is unlikely to be a situation where AI developers police themselves without any outside demands or influence,” there is a need to continue expanding efforts like this into a soft law approach that works.