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Safe spaces of autonomy 
Philip Garnett (University of York)
Tom Stoneham (University of York)
Zoe Porter (University of York)
Darren Reed (University of York)
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Philip Garnett (University of York)
Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

As development rushes towards increasingly sophisticated autonomous machines, how such systems will impact human life is often overinflated or dismissed. AI safety is also rarely central to design, despite a growing focus on safety in policy discourse and awareness of the unintended consequences.

Long Abstract:

After a number of what could be loosely described as false starts, society is at the point of transformation by autonomous systems, robotics, and AI. The capacity of autonomous systems to act independently has reached the point where such systems take an increasing role in society alongside, and perhaps at the expense of, humans. Autonomous systems look like they will also become integrated into the creative and social side of human society - perhaps transforming human society into the sphere of cybernetics. However, relative to the attention paid to the technical aspects of the development of autonomous systems, the safety of such systems is arguably a secondary consideration. A situation that is at least in part and consequence of the ‘move fast and break things’ cultural dynamic of Silicon Valley.

This panel looks to the opposite and asks what role societies can play in shifting away from the ‘tech-fix’ to a more relational approach. In this way, we ask how we can ‘move slower and fix things’ when the rush to increase the autonomy of machines is at the expense of human autonomy, putting humanity in danger of losing sight, and losing control, of its own autonomy. In this panel we will challenge both the utility of the term ‘autonomy’ and what must be accounted for if an autonomous system is to be considered ‘safe’ to be deployed in a society of autonomous humans.

It could be argued that such uses of the term ‘autonomy’ have limited utility and applicability. Instead we could embrace multiplicity, autonomies rather than autonomy. Or re-situate autonomy in social and interactional contexts and ask how different autonomies relate to one another. Furthermore, what does safety mean? An effort to limit physical, mental, and emotional harm? What other dimensions of safe, and safety, must be addressed?

Accepted papers: