UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
This Essay investigates the concept of artificial meaning, meanings produced by entities other than individual natural persons. That investigation begins in Part I with a preliminary inquiry into the meaning of “meaning,” in which the concept of meaning is disambiguated. The relevant sense of “meaning” for the purpose of this inquiry is captured by the idea of communicative content, although the phrase “linguistic meaning” is also a rough equivalent. Part II presents a thought experiment, The Chinese Intersection, which investigates the creation of artificial meaning produced by an AI that creates legal rules for the regulation of a hyper-complex conflux of transportation systems. The implications of the thought experiment are explored in Part III, which sketches a theory of the production of communicative content by AI. Part IV returns to The Chinese Intersection, but Version 2.0 involves a twist — after a technological collapse, the AI is replaced by humans engaged in massive collaboration to duplicate the functions of the complex processes that had formerly governed the flow of automotive, bicycle, light-rail, and pedestrian traffic. The second thought experiment leads in Part V to an investigation of the production of artificial meaning by group agents — artificial persons constituted by rules that govern the interaction of natural persons. The payoff of the investigation is presented in Part VI. The communicative content created by group agents like constitutional conventions, legislatures, and teams of lawyers that draft complex transactional documents is artificial meaning, which can be contrasted with natural meaning — the communicative content of those exceptional legal texts that are produced by a single individual. This insight is key to any theory of the interpretation and construction of legal texts. A conclusion provides a speculative meditation on the implications of the new theory of artificial meaning for some of the great debates in legal theory.