Computational Legalism and the Affordance of Delay in Law

(Journal of Cross-disciplinary Research in Computational Law, online-first 2020)

Abstract

Delay is a central element of law-as-we-know-it: the ability to interpret legal norms and contest their requirements is contingent on the temporal spaces that text affords citizens. As computational systems are further introduced into legal practice and application, these spaces are threatened with collapse, as the immediacy of ‘computational legalism’ dispenses with the natural ‘slowness’ of text.

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Digisprudence: The Design of Legitimate Code

(Law, Innovation and Technology, forthcoming 2021)

Abstract

This article introduces digisprudence, a theory about the legitimacy of software that both conceptualises regulative code’s potential illegitimacies and suggests concrete ways to ameliorate them. First it develops the notion of computational legalism – code’s ruleishness, opacity, immediacy, immutability, pervasiveness, and private production – before sketching how it is that code regulates, according to design theory and the philosophy of technology. These ideas are synthesised into a framework of digisprudential affordances, which are translations of legitimacy requirements, derived from legal philosophy, into the conceptual language of design. The ex ante focus on code’s production is pivotal, in turn suggesting a guiding ‘constitutional’ role for design processes. The article includes a case study on blockchain applications and concludes by setting out some avenues for future work.

Aid and AI: The Challenge of Reconciling Humanitarian Principles and Data Protection

Abstract

Artificial intelligence systems have become ubiquitous in everyday life, and their potential to improve efficiency in a broad range of activities that involve finding patterns or making predictions have made them an attractive technology for the humanitarian sector. However, concerns over their intrusion on the right to privacy and their possible incompatibility with data protection principles may pose a challenge to their deployment.

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Computational Legalism

Do not enter sign

(Originally posted on the COHUBICOL research blog.)

This post summarises computational legalism, a concept I developed in my doctoral thesis that is borne of the parallel between code’s ruleishness – its reliance on strict, binary logic instead of interpretable standards – and its conceptual equivalent in the legal realm, known as legalism (more specifically the strong variant of the latter).

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Technological mediation vs. the Rule of Law

Model of a man climbing a ladder amongst wire cubes

Presented at the conference on the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations (PHTR), November 2020

Abstract

In a constitutional democracy, the operation of law relies on the multi-interpretability of language and the possibility of contesting meaning. These capabilities are assumed in the contemporary structures of rule creation, interpretation, adjudication, and enforcement. When new technologies are introduced into those structures, such as AI/machine learning or self-executing rules (e.g. smart contracts), new mediations necessarily enter the frame.

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Normative Shortcuts and the Hermeneutic Singularity

Photo of tools

(Originally posted on the COHUBICOL research blog.)

Legal normativity is an important theme for COHUBICOL, particularly how its nature might change when the medium that embodies it moves from text to code- and data-driven systems. Normativity is a useful concept in thinking about the role of law and of legal systems; it refers to the purposive force of (textual) legal instruments and rulings that, subject to their interpretation and potential contestation, require citizens to act (or not act) in certain ways.

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Law as a User: Design, Affordance, and the Technological Mediation of Norms

Abstract

Technology law scholars have recently started to consider the theories of affordance and technological mediation, imported from the fields of psychology, human-computer interaction (HCI), and science and technology studies (STS). These theories have been used both as a means of explaining how the law has developed, and more recently in attempts to cast the law per se as an affordance. This exploratory paper summarises the two theories, before considering these applications from a critical perspective, noting certain deficiencies with respect to potential normative application and definitional clarity, respectively.

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The law as (mere) user: affordance and the mediation of law by technological artefacts

Presented at TRILcon, University of Winchester, April 2018. This paper was later published as Law as a User: Design, Affordance, and the Technological Mediation of Norms.

Abstract

Technology law scholars have recently begun to consider the design studies concept of affordance, bringing it into the legal fold both as a means to explain how the law has developed the way it has,[1] and more recently in attempts to cast the law per se as an affordance.[2]

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Digisprudence: developing a legal-theoretical approach to compliance by design

Presented at BILETA 2018, University of Aberdeen.

Abstract

The literature concerning the regulation of technology is rightly beginning to focus more on ex ante, or ‘by design’, enforcement. Despite almost two decades having passed since Lawrence Lessig’s Code was first published, the acceptance that ‘code’ (as opposed to law) has the power to regulate, and an appreciation of that power, is still developing, particularly since it requires a level of interdisciplinary openness to which the conservative legal world is occasionally hostile.

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Opening the Black Box: Petri Nets and Privacy by Design

Abstract

Building on the growing literature in algorithmic accountability, this paper investigates the use of a process visualisation technique known as the Petri net to achieve the aims of Privacy by Design. The strength of the approach is that it can help to bridge the knowledge gap that often exists between those in the legal and technical domains. Intuitive visual representations of the status of a system and the flow of information within and between legal and system models mean developers can embody the aims of the legislation from the very beginning of the software design process, while lawyers can gain an understanding of the inner workings of the software without needing to understand code. The approach can also facilitate automated formal verification of the models’ interactions, paving the way for machine-assisted privacy by design and, potentially, more general ‘compliance by design’. Opening up the ‘black box’ in this way could be a step towards achieving better algorithmic accountability.

From privacy impact assessment to social impact assessment

Abstract

In order to address the continued decline in consumer trust in all things digital, and specifically the Internet of Things (IoT), we propose a radical overhaul of IoT design processes. Privacy by Design has been proposed as a suitable framework, but we argue the current approach has two failings: it presents too abstract a framework to inform design, and it is often applied after many critical design decisions have been made in defining the business opportunity. To rebuild trust we need the philosophy of Privacy by Design to be transformed into a wider Social Impact Assessment and delivered with practical guidance to be applied at product/service concept stage as well as throughout the system’s engineering.

Monkeying Around with Copyright – Animals, AIs and Authorship in Law

Abstract

Advances in artificial intelligence have changed the ways in which computers create “original” work. Analogies that may have worked sufficiently well in the past, when the technology had few if any commercially viable applications, are now reaching the limit of their usefulness. This paper considers particularly radical thought experiment in relation to computer generated art, challenging the legal responses to computer generated works and discussing their similarity to works by animals.

A fourth law of robotics? Copyright and the law and ethics of machine co-production

Abstract

Jon Bing was not only a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and law and the legal regulation of technology. He was also an accomplished author of fiction, with an oeuvre spanning from short stories and novels to theatre plays and even an opera. As reality catches up with the imagination of science fiction writers who have anticipated a world shared by humans and non-human intelligences of their creation, some of the copyright issues he has discussed in his academic capacity take on new resonance. How will we regulate copyright when robots are producers and consumers of art? This paper tries to give a sketch of the problem and hints at possible answers that are to a degree inspired by Bing’s academic and creative writing.

Would the current ambiguities within the legal protection of software be solved by the creation of a sui generis property right for computer programs?

Abstract

Legal context: Software is an anomaly in the traditional sphere of IP, and its problematic nature has been manifest in the confused findings of courts on both sides of the Atlantic. This article considers the reasons for the confusion, where things might have been done better, and how the law could develop considering the realities of the industry.

Key points: Software protection at present favours the multinational corporations, while the interests of smaller companies and the Free and Open Source Software community are prejudiced greatly. The current regime is not fundamentally incompatible with software, however, and as such features of it could and should be retained in the creation of a sui generis IP right.

Practical significance: Much of today’s software industry is driven by the efforts of small enterprises and the Free and Open Source Software community. Their interests are not recognized in the current protection-biased framework, and as a result innovation is being stifled by the threat of litigation. IP law in this area is preventing the very thing it is designed to foster—enterprise and innovation.