Can Computers Exercise Free Speech?

Earlier in this week Tim Wu, the person we can thank for the phrase “net neutrality”, had an op-ed run in the NYT on the problems of extending First Ammendment rights to computer “speech”. What he means by this are things like search results or ad serving by companies like Google and Facebook. The argument is intriguing, and while I’m not sure he’s right, I think the case is well made: algorithm generated information is not speech in the sense intended by Freedom of Speech protections in the US or indeed many other State Constitutions.

The line can be easily drawn: as a general rule, nonhuman or automated choices should not be granted the full protection of the First Amendment, and often should not be considered “speech” at all. (Where a human does make a specific choice about specific content, the question is different.)

Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place.

Worth a look if you are interested in this type of thing.

Free Speech for Computers? –


Do you lose free speech rights if you speak using a computer? | Ars Technica


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