Syracuse University to launch Autonomous Systems Policy Institute

May 7, 2019

Syracuse University is establishing an institute that will devote itself to questions about autonomous technologies and the impact they have on everything from cities to individuals. 

Autonomous systems are those where no human is directly involved in an activity, like self-driving cars, drone delivery and smart home technologies. David Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse, said these technologies are developing faster than the policies and rules that govern them.

"One of the things we don’t understand, is who will they affect?" asked Van Slyke. "How will they affect individuals or communities, how will they work together?"

So, the university is starting up the Institute for Autonomous Systems Policy, based at the Maxwell School, and it will tap into all disciplines on campus. Institute Director Jamie Winders said it will be a center for research as well as academics, with a degree a possibility down the road. For example, she said there’s no clear rules now  for something as simple as a fender bender involving a self-driving car.

"So when there’s an accident, who’s liable? Is it the person in the car who isn’t driving?" she asked. "Is it the company that designed the car? Is it the coder who designed the algorithm? How do we think about responsibility?"

Winders said at the outset, the institute will corral the university's resources, with a major in this discipline down the road. 

Currently there are about 40 programs dealing with this in major colleges and universities across the U.S., most focused on transportation and drone systems. Syracuse's would be the first program to focus on the broader societal implications of the new technology.