Short Take: The Autocracy of Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems are all around us. To large parts of the population, they are like the mythical creatures of yore of great power, great knowledge, and great control over us. Some in the wide world ask with growing consternation: “Are we still going to be in charge? Are we still the driver at the wheels, literally as well as figuratively?” Or are we slowly, unobtrusively ushering in the autocracy of autonomous systems. Such an autocracy portends a world where decisions are made by these systems with the ceding of control by us humans and lack of accountability of these systems, or by proxy, their developers. These deep dark fears have been voiced eloquently through the ages through many culture-defining books: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932), George Orwell’s “Nineteen eighty four” (1949), and, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano” (1952), to name the three at the top of my list.

My belief based on working on reliability and security of some such autonomous systems is that we are firmly in control. But also that we the developers of such systems, need to take some conscious decisions to make sure we do not usher in the age of autocracy of autonomous systems. In this article, I will discuss three aspects of the topic.

  1. What some feared future scenarios are
  2. What we can do technologically to prevent such scenarios
  3. What we can do policy-wise to prevent such scenarios

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