Legal and ethical implications of applications based on agreement technologies: the case of auction-based road intersections

  • 175 Accesses


Agreement technologies refer to a novel paradigm for the construction of distributed intelligent systems, where autonomous software agents negotiate to reach agreements on behalf of their human users. Smart Cities are a key application domain for agreement technologies. While several proofs of concept and prototypes exist, such systems are still far from ready for being deployed in the real-world. In this paper we focus on a novel method for managing elements of smart road infrastructures of the future, namely the case of auction-based road intersections. We show that, even though the key technological elements for such methods are already available, there are multiple non-technical issues that need to be tackled before they can be applied in practice. For this purpose, we analyse legal and ethical implications of auction-based road intersections in the context of international regulations and from the standpoint of the Spanish legislation. From this exercise, we extract a set of required modifications, of both technical and legal nature, which need to be addressed so as to pave the way for the potential real-world deployment of such systems in a future that may not be too far away.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    The protocol also allows vehicles to cancel a reservation that they already have acquired for a certain time t. This may happen, for instance, when a driver realises that, due to changing traffic conditions, it is likely to arrive at the intersection at some time t’ > t. The auction protocol includes additional constraints that keep agents from strategizing based on this option.

  2. 2.

    The Directorate-General of Traffic of Spain has signed a cooperation agreement with the company Mobileye to start testing autonomous vehicles on Spanish roads, Vision Zero technology of this company is important when developing autonomously managed intersections especially those where bicycles and pedestrians circulate,… vid. Towards Vision Zero: Intelligent Intersection Infrastructure to enhance safe operations of (self-driving) cars,

  3. 3.

    National Conference of States Legislatures, and Self-Drive Act, Sec. 5,

  4. 4.

    Nevada Revised Statutes § 482A,

  5. 5.

    California Vehicle Code § 38750,

  6. 6.

    Michigan Vehicle Code § 257.2.b.;

  7. 7.

    Directive 2010/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 7 July 2010, on the framework for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in the field of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport. In Spain, Royal Decree 662/2012, of April 13, on the framework for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in the field of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport.

  8. 8.

    On Spanish Smart Cities Plan, 2015, vid.; Estrategia española de i + d + i en inteligencia artificial, 2019, vid. On AENOR Norms in relation to smart cities, vid. Also, there are projects financed by the European Union in relation to intelligent road infrastructure, vid. the Inframix R & D initiative (Road Infrastructure ready for mixed vehicle traffic flows) and Digital Europe programme for the period 2021–2027, For its part, the New York State Law encourages the establishment of communication technology that allows wireless-enabled infrastructure to share information electronically with vehicles and thereby facilitate the progress of the implementation of autonomous vehicles, vid. An Act to emend the transportation law, in relation to establishing a pilot program for vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, of the State of New York, January 30, 2018.

  9. 9.

    Public domain goods cannot be privately owned; they are outside the private legal trade. They are public property. The decision to declare a category of goods as public goods properties belongs to the legislator through the Law (article 132 of the Spanish Constitution: 1. The legal system governing public domain and community property shall be regulated by law, on the principle that they shall be inalienable and imprescriptible and not subject to attachment or encumbrance. 2. The property of the State public domain shall be established by law and shall, in any case, include coastal area, beaches, territorial waters and natural resources of the economic zone and the continental shelf). Some examples of public goods properties, in Spain, are roads, surface and underground waters, ports, coasts, … (coasts because the Spanish Constitution says it). The reversal would suppose that the good is outside the public domain. The reversal of roads of the public domain would need a Law of reversal. It is a decision of the legislator.

  10. 10.

    Automated vehicles. Do we know which road to take? Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, 2017.

  11. 11.

    The non-law Proposition of the Spanish Popular Party states: “The Congress of Deputies urges the Government to establish an adequate legal framework that allows:…

  12. 12.

    Directive 2004/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 29 April 2004, on the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in the Community. This Directive lays down the conditions necessary to ensure the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in the Community. It applies to the electronic collection of all types of road fees, on the entire Community road network, urban and interurban, motorways, major and minor roads, and various structures such as tunnels, bridges and ferries. Systems of electronic toll collection which are put in place in the Member States should meet the following fundamental criteria: the system should be amenable to ready incorporation of future technological and systems improvements and developments without costly redundancy of older models and methods, the costs of its adoption by commercial and private road users should be insignificant compared with the benefits to those road users as well as to society as a whole, and its implementation in any Member State should be non-discriminatory in all respects between domestic road users and road users from other Member States. In Spain, Royal Decree 94/2006, of February 3, on the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in State roads.

  13. 13.

    Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court of February 15, 1996; Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court of February 21, 1997, …

  14. 14.

    Spanish Decree 215/1973, of 25 January, by which approves the content of the administrative specification sheets for the construction, conservation and operation of highways in concession contract.

  15. 15.

    Its title is: “An Act to promote the safe integration of autonomous vehicles into the transportation system of the Commonwealth”, 2017, Massachusetts (

  16. 16.

    Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council; of 27 April 2016; on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) defines ‘profiling’ as “means any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person's performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements.”.

  17. 17.

    Directive (EU) 2016/1148 of the European parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the Union and Commission Recommendation (EU) 2019/534 of 26 March 2019 Cybersecurity of 5G networks, C/2019/2335, DO L 88 de 29.3.2019, p. 42/47.


  1. Bartolini C, Lenzini G, Santos C (2018) A legal validation of a formal representation of GDPR articles. In: TERECOM 2018, regulatory and legal compliance

  2. Beiker SA (2012) Legal aspects of autonomous driving. Santa Clara Law Rev 52:1145–1156

  3. Bench-Capon T, Modgil S (2017) Norms and value based reasoning: justifying compliance and violation. Artif Intell Law.

  4. Billhardt H, Julián V, Corchado JM, Fernandez A (2015) Human-agent societies: challenges and issues. Int J Artif Intell 13(1):28–44

  5. Bobes Sánchez MJ (2007) La teoría del domino público y el Derecho de carreteras. Iustel, Madrid

  6. Boella G, Humphreys L, Muthuri R, Rossi P, van der Torre L (2014) A critical analysis of legal requirements engineering from the perspective of legal practice. In: 2014 IEEE 7th international workshop on requirements engineering and law (RELAW), Karlskrona, 2014, pp 14–21

  7. Brynjolfsson E, McAfee A (2016) The second machine age. Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. W. W. Norton & Company, New York

  8. Caliskan A, Bryson JJ, Narayanan A (2017) Semantics derived automatically from language corpora contain human-like biases. Science 356:183–186.

  9. Casanovas P (2013) Agreement and relational justice: a perspective from philosophy and sociology of law. In: Ossowski S et al (eds) Agreement technologies. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 19–41

  10. Casanovas P, Morris N, González-Conejero J, Teodoro E, Adderley R (2018) Minimisation of incidental findings, and residual risks for security compliance: the SPIRIT project. In: TERECOM 2018, regulatory and legal compliance

  11. Centeno R, Billhardt H, Hermoso R, Ossowski S (2009) Organising MAS—a formal model based on organisational mechanisms. In: Proceedings of the 2009 ACM symposium on applied computing (SAC), pp 740–746

  12. Chen T, Chen F, Chen C (2017) Review on driverless traffic from management perspective.

  13. Council of Europe (2018) Discrimination, artificial intelligence, and algorithmic decision-making, 2018. Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  14. De Filippi P, Wright A (2018) Blockchain and the law. The rule of code. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

  15. Dresner K, Stone PA (2008) Multiagent approach to autonomous intersection management. J Artif Intell Res 31:591–656

  16. Etzioni A, Etzioni O (2016) Designing AI systems that obey our laws and values. Commun ACM 59:29–31

  17. European Commission (2019) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social Committee and the Committee of the Regions (2019), building trust in human-centric artificial intelligence, COM/2019/168 final

  18. Floridi L, Sanders JW (2004) On the morality of artificial agents. Minds Mach 14:349–379

  19. Fornara N, Lopes Cardoso H, Noriega P, Oliveira E, Tampitsikas C (2013) Modelling agent institutions. In: Ossowski S et al (eds) Agreement technologies. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 277–308

  20. García-Herrero J (2017) ¿Cómo se audita un Algoritmo?. Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  21. Goodman B, Flaxman S (2017) European Union regulations on algorithmic decision-making and a “right to explanation”. Artif Intell Mag 38(3):2017.

  22. Górriz López C (2017) Tecnología blockchain y contratos inteligentes. In: Navas Navarro S (ed) Inteligencia artificial. Tecnología, Derecho, Tirant lo Blanch, Valencia, pp 151–195

  23. Hernáez Esteban E (2018) Inteligencia artificial y vehículos autónomos: el régimen de la responsabilidad civil ante los nuevos retos tecnológicos. Rev Aranzadi Derecho Nuevas Tecnol 48:7

  24. Kaminski ME (2019) The right to explanation, explained (June 15, 2018). University of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-24; Berkeley Technology Law Journal, vol. 34, No. 1.

  25. Kockelman K et al (2018) Bringing smart transport to Texans: ensuring the benefits of a connected and autonomous transport system in Texas—final report. Center for Transportation Research Bureau of Engineering Research. The University of Texas, pp 59–89. Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  26. Kroll JA, Huey J, Barocas S, Felten EW, Reidenberg JR, Robinson DG, Yu H (2017) Accountable algorithms. Univ Pa Law Rev 165:633–705

  27. Levin S (2016) A beauty contest was judged by AI and the Robots didn’t like dark skin. The Guardian (London, 8 September). Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  28. Lohmann M (2016) Liability issues concerning self-driving vehicles. Eur J Risk Regul 7(2):335–340.

  29. Marchant GE, Lindor RA (2012) The coming collision between autonomous vehicles and the liability system. Santa Clara Law Rev 52:1321

  30. Millard C (2018) Blockchain and law: Incompatible codes? Comput Law Secur Rev 34(4):843–846.

  31. Namazi E, Li J, Lu C (2019) Intelligent intersection management systems considering autonomous vehicles: a systematic literature review. IEEE Access 7:91946–91965

  32. Navas Navarro S (2017) Derecho e inteligencia artificial desde el diseño. Aproximaciones. In: Navas Navarro S (ed) Inteligencia artificial. Tecnología, Derecho, Tirant lo Blanch, Valencia, pp 23–72

  33. Omicini A, Ossowski S, Ricci A (2004) Coordination infrastructures in the engineering of multiagent systems. In: Bergenti F, Gleizes MP, Zambonelli F (eds) Methodologies and software engineering for agent systems—the agent-oriented software engineering handbook. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 273–296

  34. Ossowski S et al (2013) Agreement technologies. Law, governance and technology series (LGTS) no. 8. Springer, Dordrecht.

  35. Packin NG, Lev-Aretz Y (2018) Learning algorithms and discrimination. In: Barfield W, Pagallo U (eds) Research handbook on the law of artificial intelligence. Elgar Publishing, ‎Cheltenham, pp 88–113.

  36. Pagallo U, Durante M (2016) The pros and cons of legal automation and its governance. Eur J Risk Regul.

  37. Parker A, Nitschke G (2017) How to best automate intersection management. In: IEEE congress on evolutionary computation (CEC). Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  38. Pearson J (2016) It’s too late—we’ve already taught AI to be racist and sexist, in motherboard. Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  39. Perez S (2016) Microsoft silences its new A.I. bot tay, after Twitter users teach it racism. Tech Crunch, 24. Accessed 26 Sept 2019

  40. Prakken H (2017) On the problem of making autonomous vehicles conform to traffic law. Artif Intell Law 25(3):341–363

  41. Rabinia A, Ghanavati A (2018) The FOL-based legal-GRL (FLG) framework: towards an automated goal modeling approach for regulations. In: Proceedings of the IEEE 8th international model-driven requirements engineering workshop (MoDRE), Banff, AB, pp 58–67

  42. Santamaría-Pastor JA (1985) Comentarios al artículo 19. In: Garrido-Falla F (ed) Comentarios a la Constitución. Civitas, Madrid

  43. Shubbak M (2013) Self-driving cars: legal, social, and ethical aspects.

  44. Surden H (2012) Computable contracts. UC Davis Law Rev 46(629):629–700

  45. Surden H (2017) Values embedded in legal artificial intelligence. University of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17, p 15

  46. Surden H, Williams M-A (2016) Technological opacity, predictability, and self-driving cars. Cardozo Law Rev 38:121–181

  47. Taeihagh A, Lim HSM (2019) Governing autonomous vehicles: emerging responses for safety, liability, privacy, cybersecurity, and industry risks. Transp Rev 39(1):103–128.

  48. Tutt A (2017) An FDA for algorithms. Adm Law Rev 69:83–123

  49. Vasirani M, Ossowski S (2009) Evaluating policies for reservation-based intersection control. In: Proceedings of the 14th Portuguese conference on artificial intelligence, pp 39–50

  50. Vasirani M, Ossowski S (2011) Learning and coordination for autonomous intersection control. Appl Artif Intell 25(3):193–216

  51. Vasirani M, Ossowski S (2012) A market-inspired approach for intersection management in urban road traffic networks. J Artif Intell Res 43:621–659

  52. von Unger-Sternberg A (2018) Autonomous driving: regulatory challenges raised by artificial decision making and tragic choices. In: Barfield W, Pagallo U (eds) Research handbook on the law of artificial intelligence. Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, pp 88–113.

  53. Walker-Osborn C, Chan C (2017) Artificial intelligence and the law. ITNOW 59(1):36–37.

  54. Zuiderveen Borgesius F, Poort J (2017) Online price discrimination and EU data privacy law. J Consum Policy 40:347.

Download references


This work has been partially supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, co-funded by EU FEDER Funds, through Grants TIN2015-65515-C4-X-R (SURF) and RTI2018-095390-B-C33 (InEDGEMobility).

Author information

Correspondence to José-Antonio Santos.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Santos, J., Fernández, A., Moreno-Rebato, M. et al. Legal and ethical implications of applications based on agreement technologies: the case of auction-based road intersections. Artif Intell Law (2019).

Download citation


  • Agreement technologies
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Intersection management
  • Intelligent transportation systems
  • Ethical and legal aspects
  • Spanish law