Academic Minute Podcast

Daniel Gervis, Vanderbilt University – How Can Human Law Apply to A.I.

Can artificial intelligence run an LLC by itself?

Daniel Gervais, Milton R. Underwood Chair and professor of law at Vanderbilt University, examines the laws of the land to find out.

Daniel J. Gervais, PhD, is Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law at Vanderbilt UniversityLaw School, where he serves as Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program and co- director of the LLM Program. Before he joined the Academy, Prof. Gervais was Legal Officer at World Trade Organization (WTO); Head of Section at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); and Vice-President of Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC). He just published an article on the application of law to autonomous AI, including AI that could legally operate a cooperation, and asci-fi novel entitled Forever meant to discuss and teach the law and ethics of AI.

How Can Human Law Apply to A.I.

Let us start with three fundamental ideas. First, what we call “law” is a human invention. No law can stop a hurricane or prevent a dog from barking. The law can impose obligations for hurricane preparations or a fine on the dog’s owner. So when we say that an animal has rights (for example against cruel treatment), we mean that humans cannot treat the dog with cruelty. If a mountain lion kills the dog, no one cannot sue the lion.

Second, the law is based on another human invention: language. Only humans can speak or write in a

way that allows us to create and enforce legal obligations.

Third, there are “legal persons” such as corporations that have standing to sue in court, enter into contracts etc., but their actions are taken by humans who operate them. But the law often allows legal persons to operate or even to exist without any human owner, executive or employee. This is especially true for Limited Liability Companies, or LLCs. The law may require that a person be named as founder or identified to receive official documents, but typically these people have very little if any obligations concerning the day-to-day operation of the LLC.

Put these three ideas together and what you get is the possibility of an LLC being operated entirely by AI. AI can understand and use human language, and legal texts and concepts. Now this LLC would have to obey the law, as any legal person should. This means teaching human law to AI, either by embedding it onto the AI or by creating AI compliance agents. Zero-member LLCs are a good example of why we may want AI to understand and comply with a legal system that would for the first time be applied directly to nonhumans.

Read More:

Forever: The Coexistence Trilogy, Pary One (Anthem Press, 2023)

The Human Cause, book chapter (2022)

Not Quite Like Us? Can Cyborgs and Intelligent Machines Be Natural Persons as a Matter of Law? (Qeios, 2023)


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