Category Archives: Law

New Paper ‘When AIs Outperform Doctors’

My latest (draft!) paper, When AIs Outperform Doctors: The dangers of a tort-induced over-reliance on machine learning and what (not) to do about it is, I hope, special. I had the good fortune to co-author it with Canadian polymath Ian Kerr, and with Joëlle Pineau, one of the world’s leading machine learning experts.

Here’s the abstract:

Someday, perhaps soon, diagnostics generated by machine learning (ML) will have demonstrably better success rates than those generated by human doctors. What will the dominance of ML diagnostics mean for medical malpractice law, for the future of medical service provision, for the demand for certain kinds of doctors, and—in the longer run—for the quality of medical diagnostics itself?

This article argues that once ML diagnosticians, such as those based on neural networks, are shown to be superior, existing medical malpractice law will require superior ML-generated medical diagnostics as the standard of care in clinical settings. Further, unless implemented carefully, a physician’s duty to use ML systems in medical diagnostics could, paradoxically, undermine the very safety standard that malpractice law set out to achieve. In time, effective machine learning could create overwhelming legal and ethical pressure to delegate the diagnostic process to the machine. Ultimately, a similar dynamic might extend to treatment also. If we reach the point where the bulk of clinical outcomes collected in databases are ML-generated diagnoses, this may result in future decision scenarios that are not easily audited or understood by human doctors. Given the well-documented fact that treatment strategies are often not as effective when deployed in real clinical practice compared to preliminary evaluation, the lack of transparency introduced by the ML algorithms could lead to a decrease in quality of care. The article describes salient technical aspects of this scenario particularly as it relates to diagnosis and canvasses various possible technical and legal solutions that would allow us to avoid these unintended consequences of medical malpractice law. Ultimately, we suggest there is a strong case for altering existing medical liability rules in order to avoid a machine-only diagnostic regime. We argue that the appropriate revision to the standard of care requires the maintenance of meaningful participation by physicians in the loop.

I hope that it will be of interest to to lawyers, doctors, computer scientists, and a range of medical service providers and policy-makers. Comments welcome!

Posted in AI, Sufficiently Advanced Technology, Writings | 1 Comment

9th Cir Declines to Strike Down EO TRO

A sensible, cautious, and careful opinion. It will probably drive Trump nuts.

Posted in Immigration, Trump | 3 Comments

Your AG Scorecard

Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates this evening–as the President has the right to do–and issued a statement:

The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.

Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.

It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.

Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties and subsequently named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate, where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons.

“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed. I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected,” said Dana Boente, Acting Attorney General.

In appointing Dana Boente, Trump exercised authority under the Federal Vacancies Act Reform Act of 1998, 5 U.S.C. 3345. In so doing, he (quite legally) bypassed the default line of succession otherwise provided for in Executive Order 13762 (Jan. 13, 2017) signed by President Obama, which had the next three people eligible to be acting AG as (a) United States Attorney for the District of Columbia; (b) United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and (c) United States Attorney for the Central District of California.

Yates had angered Trump by instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend his executive order banning travel for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Various parts of the order have already been enjoined by district courts around the country. Presumably the Trump people shopped for someone willing to overturn Sally Yates’s order, and found one: New acting attorney general says he will enforce order.

Dana Boene was sworn in this evening in order to ensure that there would be someone with legal authority to sign foreign surveillance warrants.

[edited shortly after publication for clarity]

Update1: Spencer Ackerman says it is unclear if the new acting attorney general can sign national security surveillance requests.

Update2: Josh Blackman makes two interesting points. First, one might theoretically question whether firing is a qualifying reason under the Vacancies Act that the incumbent is “otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office” and, more significantly, (2) this action might have precedential value if and when Trump fires and replaces Richard Cordray.

Posted in Administrative Law, Immigration, Trump | Leave a comment


Today’s Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs is the sort of dumb thing we law profs write up for final exams.

Here are key bits:

[Sec 2.] (a) Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.

(b) For fiscal year 2017, which is in progress, the heads of all agencies are directed that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero, unless otherwise required by law or consistent with advice provided in writing by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director).

(c) In furtherance of the requirement of subsection (a) of this section, any new incremental costs associated with new regulations shall, to the extent permitted by law, be offset by the elimination of existing costs associated with at least two prior regulations. Any agency eliminating existing costs associated with prior regulations under this subsection shall do so in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable law.

[Sec. 3] (c) Unless otherwise required by law, no regulation shall be issued by an agency if it was not included on the most recent version or update of the published Unified Regulatory Agenda as required under Executive Order 12866, as amended, or any successor order, unless the issuance of such regulation was approved in advance in writing by the Director.

Sec. 4. Definition. For purposes of this order the term “regulation” or “rule” means an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or to describe the procedure or practice requirements of an agency, but does not include:

(a) regulations issued with respect to a military, national security, or foreign affairs function of the United States;

(b) regulations related to agency organization, management, or personnel; or

(c) any other category of regulations exempted by the Director.

Spot the issues. (Hints: “Unless prohibited by law” “Unless otherwise required by law”, “Regulation’)

Posted in Administrative Law, Trump | Leave a comment


Benjamin Wittes–no leftie he–on the Trump immigration ban:

I don’t use the word “malevolence” here lightly. As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.

Some of these policies were effective; some were not. Some worked out better than others. And I don’t mean to relitigate any of those questions here. My sole point is that all of these policies were conceptualized and designed and implemented by people who were earnestly trying to protect the country from very real threats. And the policies were, to a one, proximately related to important goals in the effort. While some of these policies proved tragically misguided and caused great harm to innocent people, none of them was designed or intended to be cruel to vulnerable, concededly innocent people. Even the CIA’s interrogation program, after all, was deployed against people the agency believed (mostly correctly) to be senior terrorists of the most dangerous sort and to garner information from them that would prevent attacks.

I actually cannot say that about Trump’s new executive order—and neither can anyone else.

I don’t agree with many of the priors above, but the significance here is that Trump has lost the any chance of getting support from the establishment unless he is directly paying them.

See also this blistering analysis by Elliot Cohen, formerly a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, A Clarifying Moment in American History:

There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.

Posted in Immigration, Trump | Leave a comment

Foreign-Born Americans

I live in a place where 51.7% of the population was born in another country. But I know that is not typical. I had in fact vaguely imagined that in much of the rest of the US the overall fraction of the population that was was foreign-born was shrinking. According to this interesting chart (p.3 of the presentation), that seems not to be the case.

It seems I vastly over-estimated the immigrant population in the 60s and 70s — perhaps because everyone my grandmother knew in New York seemed to have been born abroad. Indeed, if one assumes that the charted trends depicted above continued for six more years to 2016, then for the bulk of the population alive today the percentage of immigrants around them is at a lifetime high, even if it has not yet reached its late 19th century/early 20th century modern peak.

Being first generation, and generally pro-immigration, I’m more than fine with this, but it does perhaps help explain why anti-immigration policies have had some traction — just like they did in the 1920s. Last time around that animus led to the Immigration Act of 1924, setting up strict quotas on immigrants, and basically barring Asians.  (In addition to its many many other defects, that statute, as amended, would later come to bite my father when he sought to regularize his visa status in the wake of the Chinese Revolution and his loss of a student visa caused by successfully defending a PhD.)

Posted in Immigration | 2 Comments