AI, agency and responsibility: the VW fraud case and beyond

Deborah Johnson, Mario Verdicchio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
199 Downloads (Pure)


The concept of agency as applied to technological artifacts has become an object of heated debate in the context of AI research because some AI researchers ascribe to programs the type of agency traditionally associated with humans. Confusion about agency is at the root of misconceptions about the possibilities for future AI. We introduce the concept of a triadic agency that includes the causal agency of artifacts and the intentional agency of humans to better describe what happens in AI as it functions in real-world contexts. We use the VW emission fraud case to explain triadic agency since in this case a techno-logical artifact, namely software, was an essential part of the wrongdoing and the software might be said to have agency in the wrongdoing. We then extend the case to include futuristic AI, imagining AI that becomes more and more autonomous.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-647
Number of pages9
JournalAI & Society
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2019


  • Agency
  • Autonomy
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Ethics
  • Future
  • Technology


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