The law is not an immutable code carved in stone. It too is being disrupted by the technological revolution. But its principles are classical, and until the language of the legal system is entirely written in computer code, law will remain a kind of non-fiction literature. Here are three ways the law is adjusting to the waves of technological disruption, interpreted through the eyes of classical and science fiction literature: Kafka, Asimov and Stapleton.

1. Kafka: Courts of the future

In the 20th Century Kafka classic, the trial, a man waits his whole life for justice, but never receives it: “the proceedings have been started and you will learn everything in good time”.

Globally, courts have been criticized for high costs and slow speeds.

Fourth industrial revolution technologies might bring new kinds of conflict before the courts, but how will technology itself help administer the law? Thoughtful lawyers are trying to visualize how artificial intelligence, block chain, autonomous machines and bio-engineering impact the courts.

Dubai is exploring this through its Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and the Dubai Future Foundation. Its Court of the Future Forum is looking at how new protocols might invent the next generation of legal processes through multistakeholder engagement. After an “open source” consultation for founding principles, the project will bring together legal minds and industry to foresee disputes arising from disruptive technology, and figure out guideline principles that can be used in courts around the world.

Already a court in Cleveland, United States, is using an artificial intelligence tool for sentencing. Whilst technology is not going to replace a judge, it can help predict the outcome of cases. And there are judges learning to code to bridge the gap between law and science.

Predicting outcomes in law involves mapping the system and converting cases into machine readable code. From conflict points a decision tree is created and the machine intelligence tool can then predict simple outcomes.

A legal engineering tool cannot predict the future: it will not know how a network of self driving cars should be regulated, but once those ideas have been settled and there is a readable bank of case law, it can decipher patterns in structured data.

Beyond the courts, within the legal system, tools for engineering are available at the level of the law firm, while alternative legal engineering firms are emerging in innovative jurisdictions.

Whether this also solves Kafka problems of justice only time will tell.

2. Asimov: Laws of the future

For regulatory justice in science fiction, look no further than Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics, including that a robot may not injure a human being. The world of the fourth industrial revolution can be framed by new sets of legal rules.

At the end of 2017 the EU launched a blockchain study to look into regulatory intervention, which the European Commission should take. The goal was to identity the “right conditions for an open, innovative, trustworthy, transparent and EU compliant environment”.

There is much in law that was dreamed up: the notion of intellectual property had to be invented, as did many other legal fictions and structures. The fourth industrial revolution in the form of law is imaginative frameworks and regulations around artificial intelligence, block chain and bio-engineering.

When a self-driving vehicle ran over a pedestrian it showed that the law on these issues is still uncertain. The same came be said about data privacy as shown by the current Facebook controversy. On longer term technology issues there have been calls to regulate from Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Marc Benioff.

Without conflict there is no fourth industrial revolution or justice. In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Seldon foresees the future of the empire and the foundation is set up to avert a crisis.

Legal engineering can makes processes more efficient, but big uncertain Asimov problems in law require human thinking. Legal disruption shows that fourth industrial revolution technologies require fourth industrial revolution laws.

3. Stapleton: Legal design of the future

The final problem is depicted by another classical work of science fiction: in Starmaker, by Olaf Stapleton; consciousness and evolving environments are so other-worldly, it is difficult to imagine law as we know it.

Looking into the future, use cases of artificial intelligence, block chain, autonomous vehicles and bio engineering are almost limitless.

And they will likely penetrate further into the inner life of a human.

The World Economic Forum’s Professor Schwab believes “the world lacks a common narrative that outlines the opportunities and challenges of the fourth industrial revolution”. If is not through law where such a narrative emerges then where?

When boundaries between inner life, outer identity, natural environment and man-made world are radically disrupted, what needs further legal protection?

If technology is not value neutral can we code law into the technology?

Legal reasoning occurs in patterns and when regulators approached issues of jurisdiction in cyberspace they started with concepts of jurisdiction on earth: territory, sovereignty, land and sea.

That means that our basic legal concepts of Earth are pivotal. Earth Jurisprudence is field of law that advocates for rights of the natural world.

In 2017 Mount Taranaki and river Whanganui were granted legal personality in New Zealand; as were the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. Recently the Colombian Court ruled that the Amazon rainforest has the same rights as a human.

The project of fourth industrial revolution for the earth by the World Economic Forum and PwC brings together technology solutions with environmental challenges.

By setting boundaries, law can incentivize new industries most valuable to humans. To do this will require new vocabulary, which is understood and accepted by regulators and developers.

Because of these disruptions, legal design is a hot topic in legal education. Stanford legal design lab is an example of an organization “working at the intersection of human-centered design technology and law to build a new generation of legal products and services”.

In times of technological disruption it is worth remembering that law and justice are not the same thing.

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