Digital Tech Conference: a look back at an unusual trial

Digital Tech Conférence : o look back at an unusual trial

On December 6th, Open Agora participated in the Digital Tech Conference in Rennes. Through conferences, talks and workshops, the event focused on 3 themes: health and well-being, digital and creativity and artificial intelligence. Breton start-ups were invited to show their innovations and present their products.

Thus, Open Agora had the opportunity to exhibit, but also to present its voting solution during the staging of an innovative trial.

The trial of subway train number 42

It is 2031, and now objects with AI are recognized as legal entities.

In Chanlon, a town in Utopia Metropole, the level crossing barriers did not work as intended. Unfortunately, the new fully automated subway train struck two residents of the city. Wounded and shocked, they decided to file a complaint against the metropolis.

That is the context in which this trial took place. The members of the court, played by actors from the company Échapée Belle, introduced the facts. Then Ms. Gims, the defence lawyer, called 3 experts who discussed and gave their views on the case:

  • Alexandre Termier, an expert in artificial intelligence, explained that the train is only trying to find an optimal solution according to the objectives assigned to it by its designers. Here, it preferred to hit the vehicle in order to minimize the estimated overall human toll.
  • Jean-Marie Bonnin, an expert in the operation of cooperative and embedded systems, highlighted that the train set depends on orders from the control centre. If this order does not reach her, she will be forced to make a decision locally.
  • Valérie Viet Triem Tong, a security expert, indicated that the decision made by the AI depends on the order, number and content of these messages. Similarly, the final decision on the train depends on the messages sent by the control centre.
Digital Tech Conference: the trial of subway train number 42

Based on the scientists’ explanations, a number of leads have been ruled out. The jury will then be able to make an informed decision.

Can an AI be found guilty?

After the pleadings of the lawyer and the prosecutor, the judge asked the jury, the public at the trial, to make a decision.

To this end, For this reason, Christophe Morvan, founder of Open Agora and clerk for the occasion, explained to the jury how the voting system works. The jury had to assess the level of guilt of each of the defendants: Utopia metropolis, the subway train, its manufacturer, or a third person.

Digital Tech Conference: the trial of subway train number 42

Thus, after deliberation, 239 people had expressed their opinions. The jury has named Utopia Metropole as responsible for the damage. More than 56% of the voters gave the maximum marks to the municipality. The judge therefore pronounced the verdict.

Thanks to the distribution of points, we can also see that the manufacturer of the train is also designated as 51% responsible. Moreover, and contrary to what we might have thought at the beginning of the trial, Mr. and Mrs. Cobe, the residents who were struck, were not exonerated by the entire jury. More than a quarter of them found that their responsibilities in the accident were significant.

Finally, the subway train was totally exonerated. The jury considered that artificial intelligence could not be responsible for these acts.

Today, artificial intelligence cannot be found guilty. But with their development, many ethical issues are becoming increasingly important. Will a robot-specific responsibility regime ever exist?


We are very happy of having been able to participate in the 2019 Digital Tech and hope to be able to come back for the next edition. Thank you to the Poool and the INRIA Rennes teams for allowing us to take part in this great experience.


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