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From lethal drones to cancer diagnostics, humans are increasingly working with complex and artificially intelligent algorithms to make decisions which affect human lives, raising questions about how best to regulate these “human in the loop” systems. We make four contributions to the discourse.

First, contrary to the popular narrative, law is already profoundly and often problematically involved in governing human-in-the-loop systems: it regularly affects whether humans are retained in or removed from the loop. Second, we identify “the MABA-MABA trap,” which occurs when policymakers attempt to address concerns about algorithmic incapacities by inserting a human into decision making process. Regardless of whether the law governing these systems is old or new, inadvertent or intentional, it rarely accounts for the fact that human-machine systems are more than the sum of their parts: They raise their own problems and require their own distinct regulatory interventions.

But how to regulate for success? Our third contribution is to highlight the panoply of roles humans might be expected to play, to assist regulators in understanding and choosing among the options. For our fourth contribution, we draw on legal case studies and synthesize lessons from human factors engineering to suggest regulatory alternatives to the MABA-MABA approach. Namely, rather than carelessly placing a human in the loop, policymakers should regulate the human-in-the-loop system.


Reproduced with permission. Originally published as Price, W. Nicholson, II, Rebecca Crootof, and Margot Kaminski. "Humans in the Loop." Vanderbilt Law Review (2023).