Syracuse University Launches Autonomous Systems Policy Institute
May 06, 2019      

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – At Syracuse University’s inaugural Autonomous Systems Policy Symposium, Chancellor Kent D. Syverud today announced the establishment of a new instituted devoted to research and teaching around the social, ethical, and legal questions created by autonomous systems.

“The Autonomous Systems Policy Institute (ASPI) will leverage the policy leadership expertise of Syracuse University’s top-ranked Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs,” Syverud said. “In concert with experts from across all of Syracuse University’s schools and colleges, the institute will address an urgent societal need while providing opportunities for research and student experiences that cross disciplines.”

The ASPI approach will cross disciplines, covering social sciences, natural science, and humanities, as well as the professional schools such as engineering, law, communications, and business, the university said.

Jamie Winders Syracuse University

Jamie Winders, director of the Autonomous Systems Policy Initiative, Syracuse University

“Cities, social systems, laws, economies, nations, and ecosystems won’t adjust to new autonomous technologies one at a time,” said Jamie Winders, professor of Geography at the Maxwell School, and the director of the new institute. “Instead, they will have to find ways to accommodate multiple autonomous systems – developing at different speeds and regulated in different ways – concurrently. The [ASPI] uses this complex mix as its starting point. We can’t effectively understand complicated issues by studying transformative developments in isolation. We can only offer effective solutions when we consider the complexity of those issues.”

Addressing questions around autonomy

For example, the new institute will address questions such as:

  • What and whose values should be baked into the artificial intelligence systems driving autonomous systems?
  • Where should a drone “highway” go, and what are the implications of such highways?
  • In a world of autonomous vehicles, what should the legal definition of “driver” be?
  • How can urban, suburban, and rural communities plan for the period of “cohabitation” of autonomous and piloted vehicles?
  • What new social divides will the adoption of autonomous systems create, and what old ones might it help solve?

The university said a review of offerings by major U.S. colleges and universities found less than 40 programs, centers, or initiatives doing regular work in this area, and most of them focused on transportation and aerial vehicles, and many from an applied standpoint. “Few, or none, are focused on the full landscape of autonomous systems and the broader societal implications in the way that this new institute will be,” the university said in a statement.

“In establishing this new interdisciplinary institute, we are making every effort to ensure that we not only leverage Syracuse University’s strengths in ways that will truly maximize their impact on the public good, but also match them to the most pressing challenges and the greatest unmet needs,” said Winders. “We see this as an opportunity and a responsibility to create an unparalleled experience for our faculty and students to immerse in cutting-edge research and to help shape the policy, legal, and ethical frameworks guiding the proliferation of autonomous systems.”