To witness its decline is to see a world emerging. Inheritors of a world we will cocreate with engineered artefacts that deal with tasks successfully with a goal in view, we are now witnessing the ascension of artificial agency. It is a human project in information societies enabled by novel forms of political or collective agency, and artificial agency.

It is the sum of the actions taken by every human online and offline, digital and analogue. This revolution is not in factories. It is not industrial. It is in the infosphere. It includes offline, analogue and digital spaces, cyberspace, information organisms or “inforgs”, information entities and assemblages, information agents, and their projects, interactions, and mutual relations that flourish in information-thick environments.

This revolution is not about the rise of a creative class. It is about the transformations of agency, or the ability to interact with and learn from a world adapting to the digital revolution. It is a divorce between the ability to frame problems efficiently, and the need to be intelligent while solving them.

Before this shift, upheavals like Britain’s Industrial Revolution, chained to its colonial plantation economy, irreversibly changed our self-understanding, our reality, and our experience of reality. Moreover, traces of each revolution including the Enlightenment have transported prejudgements seamlessly into the present that buttress difficulties that sustain intergenerational immobility and inherited inequality.

But this digital bend in the river is toward a socially preferable (equitable) and environmentally sustainable future. Anyone who is not perplexed by this turn has not fully grasped its magnitude. Humanity experienced a world before and after the alphabet, ironworking, the Gutenberg press, the steam engine, and the iPod click wheel. We are the last generation to experience a pre-digital, purely analogue, offline reality. The inheritors of edited life and AI-Assemblages will know nothing of it.

Our special place is to be enfolded inside the crevices of a fully analogue life and the increasingly digital world of synthetic life and neural lace. We shaped the Church of the Assumption, Queens Hall, The Red House, Queen’s Royal College, UTT, UWI and NAPA, and then these structures shaped us. We are at the beginning of shaping the new digital architectures.

The key questions are how, when, where and by whom the impact of artificial agency will be felt. In 2004, the UN set up the Group of Governmental Experts on Information Security to agree on rules to guide conduct in cyberspace. The fifth meeting of the group in 2017 ended in a standoff. There was no agreement on whether international humanitarian law and existing laws on self-defence and state responsibility should apply in cyberspace. A report was never submitted. It is uncertain whether the group of experts will ever meet again, and AI has changed the terrain.

Non-state grievance and remedy mechanisms can provide effective redress for some but by no means all of the inevitable adverse impacts that AI will produce. Many of the existing formal and informal institutions that govern various fields of social endeavour are ill-suited to addressing the challenges posed by AI. Institutional innovation is needed to guarantee appropriate governance of AI-Assemblages, and to support the principle of “explicability” to address the inevitable adverse effects of AI.

The accompanying uneasiness has led to a number of international policy frameworks that include:

  • The Asilomar AI Principles developed in collaboration with attendees of the high level Asilomar conference in January 2017 (Asilomar);
  • The Montreal Declaration (Université de Montréal 2017) following the forum on the Socially Responsible Development of AI in November 2017 and publically announced on 1st May 2018 (Montreal);
  • The Crowd-Sourced document that received contributions from 250 global thought leaders to develop principles and recommendations for the ethical development and design of autonomous and intelligent systems and published in December 2017, and offered here as the general principles (Version Two) of Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well Being with Autonomous Intelligent Systems (IEEE (2017), 6) (IEEE);
  • Statement on AI, Robotics, and ‘Autonomous’ Systems (EGE 2018) published by the European Commission’s European Group on Ethics and Science and New Technologies, March 2018, (EGE);
  • The ‘five overarching principles for an AI code’ offered in the UK House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Select Committee’s report ‘AI in the UK, Ready and Willing and Abel?’ (House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee 16th April 2017, Section 417), published in April 2018 (AIUK);
  • The Tenets of the Partnership on AI (Partnership on AI 2018) published by multi-stakeholder organizations consisting of academics, researchers, civil society, and companies building and using AI technology, and other groups (Partnership);
  • AI4People, the first global forum on the impact of AI;
  • The Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI published by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group (HLEGAI 18th December 2018, 8th April 2019);
  • The OECD Recommendations of the Council on AI (OECD 2019);
  • The Beijing AI Principles (Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence 2019); and
  • The Rome Call for an AI Ethics (Pontifical Academy for Life 2020).

The six most high-profile initiatives from this compendium are (1) Asilomar, (2) Montreal (3) IEEE, (4) EGE, (5) AIUK and (6) Partnership.