This post is a comment on Lane Rettig’s essay Autonocrats and Anthropocrats, connecting its central themes to two fundamental concepts in social sciences — the rule of law and social structure. It explains how the most informative analogue to a decentralized network of nodes running ‘autonomous’ software is society itself. Digital record-keeping and distributed computer networks are comparable to other institutions with effects beyond the control of their creators, administrators, and users. As such, they represent an important area of research not only for computer scientists and software engineers but also for social and political theorists whose expertise could be usefully applied to the design and governance of these emerging complex systems.

Rule of Law

The principles embodied in the rule of law are foundational to modern civilization and have led humans to accept rational-legal authority expressed throughout the social order. Today, these principles also motivate attempts at creating “credibly neutral” software systems. Lane Rettig writes:

Social Structure

A related issue concerns the degree to which autonomous software should include “kill switches” or other options for a central authority to unilaterally affect how the system operates. Rettig writes:


[1] Weber, M. (1946). Politics as a Vocation. In H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (pp. 77‐128). New York: Oxford University Press. Available here. (Originally published in German in 1919.)