Soft-Law Governance of Artificial IntelligenceA Project of the Center for Law, Science & Innovation

The future of artificial intelligence (AI) governance

AI is the most important technology of the twenty-first century and it will profoundly impact every industry and segment of society. One of the central questions facing policy makers around the world is how to manage the benefits and drawbacks of this technology. While overly restrictive government regulation could stifle innovation and block AI’s advantages, a governance vacuum may create regulatory uncertainty that discourages investment even while leaving citizens vulnerable to potential harms. Ideally, AI governance effectively addresses its risks and reassures public confidence, while being capable of evolving with, rather than impeding its progress. Traditional legal and regulatory approaches, such as legislation and administrative agency rulemaking, take far too long to respond effectively to changes in the technology, with new rules growing obsolete even before they come into effect.

Soft Law

Soft-law as a flexible governance alternative for AI

Soft-law is defined as a mechanism that sets forth substantive expectations, but is not directly enforceable by government. It offers important advantages as an AI governance alternative: it is flexible and adaptive, it is cooperative and inclusive, it incentivizes rather than punishes, and is applicable  in any jurisdiction. As rapid developments in this technology outstrip the ability of traditional legal tools to adapt, society requires innovative new governance solutions.  Soft-law offers a flexible approach that make it possible to gain the rewards of these powerful new technologies, while avoiding many of their pitfalls. In this landmark project, leading scholars and experts explore potential applications of soft law for AI governance.

"The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?"

Gray Scott

A three-pronged approach – past, present, and future

In this project, leading experts and scholars in governance and in AI technology research, analyze, and debate various soft law mechanisms as potential governance approaches for AI. This effort includes three stages of research and analysis, focusing respectively on the past, the present, and the future. Their objectives and outputs can be found in the research & data section of this site.

"Soft law mechanisms include various types of instruments that set forth substantive expectations but are not directly enforceable by government"

Gary Marchant

This project of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is made possible by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. For more information, contact:

Joshua W. Abbott
Executive Director, Center for Law, Science & Innovation
Arizona State University
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
111 E Taylor St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
P: 480.965.2465