Notwithstanding the concerns some very smart people have expressed about the risks of what the machines will do when they reach The Singularity, I’m actually a lot more concerned for my lifetime about what humans with evil intent are going to do with machines armed with artificial intelligence.
A few months ago I asked the question whether AI can make AI obey the law? There was no conclusive answer. That question, though, goes more to how AI might lead to socially undesirable results despite its use by good people with good intentions.
I call this the problem of Good AI Gone Bad, and it has gotten a lot of recent coverage in the media. Thankfully, on this front more very smart people are working on ways to make AI accountable to society by revealing its reasoning, and I expect we will see more and more effort in AI research to devise ways to keep it socially beneficial, transparent, and mostly under our control. Law should play a key role in that, and recent announcements by the White House and by major law firms are encouraging in that respect. My Vanderbilt colleague Larry Bridgesmith published a very concise and thorough summary of this concern in today’s Legal Tech News. It’s well worth the read as an entry point to this space.
But the problem is that there are bad people in the world who don’t want AI to obey the law, they want it to help them break the law. That is, there are bad people with bad intentions who know how to design and deploy AI to make them better at being bad. That’s what I call Bad AI. What do we do about that?
Much like any other good v bad battle, much comes down to who has the better weapon. The discipline of adversarial machine learning is where many on the good side are working hard to improve counter-measures to Bad AI. But this looks like an arms race, a classic Red Queen problem. And in my view, this one has super-high stakes, maybe not like the nuclear weapons arms race, but potentially pretty close. Bad AI is way beyond hacking and identity theft as we know them today–it’s about steering key financial, social, infrastructure, and military systems. Why disrupt when you can control? Unlike the nuclear weapon problem, though, mutually-assured destruction might not keep the race in check (although North Korea has changed the rules of that arms race as well). With AI, what is it exactly that we are “blowing up” besides algorithms, which can easily be rebuilt and redeployed from anywhere in the world.
As much as we are (rightfully) concerned that climate change could do us in eventually, the AI arms race is a more immediate, tangible, and thorny threat that could wreak tremendous financial and social havoc long before sea-level rise starts taking out islands and coastal cities. We at the Program on Law and Innovation see Bad AI as a pressing issue for law and policy, and so will be devoting our spring 2017 annual workshop on AI & Law to this issue as well as to the problem of Good AI Gone Bad. We will be bringing together key researchers (including Vanderbilt’s own expert on adversarial machine learning, Eugene Vorobeychik) and commentators. More to follow!
Once again the core writing assignment in my Law 2050 class requires students to identify a trend of any kind—technological, environmental, social, economic, so long as it is likely to raise policy issues that could require legal responses—and spin out its impacts and legal implications in three styles of writing: (1) a blog post, (2) a client alert letter, and (3) a bar journal article. The idea behind the assignment is twofold. First, young lawyers can and increasingly must jump on emerging issues and brand themselves as among the “go to” legal experts. Second, the style of writing needed to make the brand is generally not taught in law schools.
What I enjoy most about the assignment is working with the students to identify topics, as I learn a lot about what’s on the horizon. This year’s topics:
- Blockchain technology in banking
- The rise of FinTech
- Fitbits in the court room
- Advances in assisted reproductive technology
- Healthcare applications of nanobots in our bodies
- Litigation finance
- Space tourism
- Moral programming of driverless cars
- Smart fabrics
- Personalized genome sequencing
- Changing marriage norms
- Brain mesh technology (aka neural lace)
- Space colonization
- The proposed Equality Act
- AI robots in the workplace
- New state physician assisted suicide laws
- Cybersecurity and drones
- Preimplantation genetics
- Employee wellness programs using wearable tech
- Epigenetic manipulation of livestock
- The new DOT driverless car policy
- Global worker enslavement
- Vertical farming
- Smart homes
- Climate geoengineering
- Smart pills
- Mobile IDs
- Legalized pot
There’s a lot in that lineup, to say the least! The semester ends with students giving 3-minute “elevator pitches” to convince the class that the topic has legal legs. My hunch is they will be pretty convincing!
I have been remiss in failing to post about this year’s Law 2050 class, which like past years has been a blast. The most important task I should take care of first is to thank the guest speakers and panelists you have enriched the class so far this semester.
- Each year I start out the class in the first week with two lectures, one providing an overview of the legal industry’s “post-normal” times and the next providing a brief history of the American law firm (1650-2015). This year, Hank Heyming, a Vandy alum and General Counsel of UpThere, sat in on the law firm history lecture and offered his insights, which were spot on.
- The second week of the class each year has been framed around two panels, the first composed of law firm leaders and the next day’s panel composed of in-house counsel leaders. This year’s panels did not fail to capture the students’ attention! For law firm leaders we had John Herman of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, John-Paul Motley of O’Melveny & Meyers, and Rita Powers of Greenberg Traurig. Our in-house team was Louise Brock of Bridgestone America, Chris Howard of Acadia Healthcare, and Louise Rankin of American Baptist Homes of the West. The two panels provided plenty of topics for later class discussion.
- In Week 4 this year we had a chance to get a primer on big data, machine learning, and natural language processing from John Nay, a PhD student in Vandy’s Computational Decision Science program and co-founder (with Oliver Goodenough of Vermont Law School and me) of PredictGov, a new legal tech startup.
- James Mackler of Frost Brown Todd gave a repeat performance in Week 5 of his inspirational story of building a successful drone law practice from scratch in the past several years. James is a classic example of the “jump in” message I used as the central theme of my 2016 Vandy Law School graduation commencement address. It was amazing to see how much the drone law space has evolved in just one year and how James has kept pace.
- To round out the first half of the semester, we heard about the innovative fixed-fee reverse auction program Glaxco Smith Kline has developed over the past several years to retain law firms for large pieces of litigation. To explain how it works from both perspectives we had Andy Bayman and Mike Duffy of King & Spalding, one of GSK’s long-standing outside law firms, and Brennan Torregrossa and Justin Ergler of GSK. The discussion centered around the realignment of incentives the fixed-fee and reverse auction approach has produced.
Law 2050 would not work without the devotion of these and many other of my guest speakers over the years. I cannot thank you enough!
More posts soon on my students’ innovative topics for their writing projects and the remaining lineup of this semester’s speakers.
Social media are beginning to have profound impacts on society at global scales, with potentially good and bad impacts. On the latter, Morales et al. have recently published a paper reporting that they have detected what they call a “new emergent global synchrony that couples behavior in distant regions across the world.” They analyzed over 500 million geolocated tweets and detected a marked heartbeat pattern of tweeting on global longitudinal scales, which makes sense as people at the same longitude share the same work, play, eat, and sleep times. These pulses move around the world like the “wave” in a stadium. The authors observe that this synchrony is the result of a mix of intentional and self-organized behavior and leads to increasing global social complexity.
While it’s nice to think of the world population beating in synchronization, all made possible by Twitter, Facebook, and other macro-scale social media, there can be downsides. I have posted before about research suggesting that complex adaptive systems are at their most fragile—and most susceptible to cascading contagion failure—when feedback mechanisms are strongly synchronized in the same direction. As the authors hypothesize, the global synchrony might actually “condition people’s decisions and diminish individuals’ freedom, as they are constrained by the norms and conventions of the social environment.” Consider, as well, the possibility that misinformation and mal-intended information enters the synchronous global media system. It could surge through and have devastating impacts before corrective action can be taken. Much as the Arab Spring demonstrated the positive power of mass social media, the emergent global social media synchrony could become a medium for cascades of injury to people and social fabric.
Regulatory solutions to this potential do not appear practical. Unlike Wall Street’s ability to stop trading when the market starts heading south fast, it may be impossible to shut down social media globally. Even if it could be done, the idea has disturbing political implications for personal freedom. Alas, given my relative ineptness at Twitter and the like, I probably wouldn’t know if it were shut down!
As I and many others have covered, the rapid infusion of new technologies into law—what some refer to as “law+tech”—is one of the major transformational trends leading to the post-normal era in which lawyers find themselves. But there is a very broad spectrum of law+tech initiatives coming into play, from those automating quite mundane routinized processes to those in pursuit of what I would call the Holy Grail of law+tech—predictive analytics.
Those who follow the Computational Legal Studies blog are familiar with the powerful predictive analytics tools Dan Katz and Mike Bommarito are developing for law, most notably their work on Supreme Court decisions. Over here at the Vanderbilt Program on Law and Innovation, John Nay, a Vandy Engineering Ph.D. Candidate and PoLI Research Fellow, is also developing tools for predictive legal analytics, in his case on federal legislation. I’ll let John’s words explain what’s behind the project:
While working at a policy strategy firm in D.C. and while interning for the Majority Leader of the U.S. House, I was overwhelmed with the number of bills to track. After leaving D.C. and no longer reading Politico every morning, trying to keep up-to-date was hopeless. There are often more than 8,000 bills under consideration in Congress but less than 4% are likely to become law. Based on my research on predicting and understanding legislation with natural language processing, I created a machine learning system to predict bill enactment. Starting with the 107th Congress, models were trained on data from previous Congresses, and all bills in the current Congress were predicted until the 113th Congress served as the test. The median of the model’s predicted probabilities for enacted bills was 0.71, and the median of the predicted probabilities for failed bills was 0.01. To bring this predictive power to the public, I built a web interface, PredictGov, where all bills currently under consideration and their predictions (updated daily) can be interactively explored. Users can sort and filter the bills and download the results. I also provide an application for searching networks of similar bills based on their texts on the website and updates on key bills on Twitter @PredictGov.
I’m delighted to be working with John to help inform his project and other initiatives, even though I understand only half of what he’s talking about! Look for more to follow on John’s PredictGov website.
With fall approaching it is time once again for my attention to turn to my Law Practice 2050 class and, in conjunction, the Law 2050 blog. I’ll start this season’s posts with a shameless self-promotion. Last year I began writing a column for the quarterly journal of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division, aptly named The Young Lawyer. The column, The Post-Normal Times, deals with topics familiar to the Law 2050 blog space. Building on the theme, the ABA recently created a web page, aptly named Law Practice 2050, that features my columns and related materials from ABA publications addressing the transformation trends at work in the legal services industry. I am delighted to be teamed up with the ABA on these important issues.
Planning for the Fall 2016 offering of Law 2050 is underway. More news to follow!
It is a tradition at Vanderbilt Law School for the graduating class to vote to select a faculty member to deliver the commencement address. This year that honor was mine, and it was a day I will never forget. The theme of my talk was focused on Law 2050 ideas. I have indulged myself in posting the transcript (minus a few inside jokes) below:
It’s standard on this occasion to urge the graduates to go out and change the world, make it a better place. But the world of the legal profession is changing like never before, with or without you. And the law itself is changing at unprecedented pace to keep up with technological, social, economic, and environmental upheaval.
So you have no choice! You can’t sit still. The question is, what will you do about it?
The first piece of advice I have is, don’t panic. This is a good thing. You are entering the legal profession at the most dynamic time in the past century of its development. That can be unsettling, but I urge you to look at it as an opportunity, one that neither I nor any of my colleagues had. It is an opportunity to update the profession and how it propels and engages with the evolution of law.
As to the profession, change of significant magnitude has not happened often over the past 200 years. Until the early 1900s, there were not many lawyers in the US and almost all practiced solo or in small two or three person partnerships. Even by 1900, there were few government attorneys, and corporate in-house lawyers were a rarity. The best lawyers served as trusted outside counselors to companies and organizations.
As corporations began to grow in the early 1900s, however, they needed more full-service representation, and lawyers began to form larger firms, though still minuscule by today’s standards. The model for the modern American law firm was born.
Three additional major structural changes in the profession have occurred over time since then. First, the New Deal, and the proliferation of government agencies and regulations in its wake, spurred the growth of a sizeable government attorney sector, and fueled even more growth in private law firms. Second, the increasing complexity of regulation and litigation eventually led to the expansion of corporate in-house legal departments, which by the 1960s were the norm for large companies. Then, the civil rights and environmental protection movements of the 60s and 70s gave rise to the rapid expansion of the public interest law firm sector. By 1975, these forces had created the largest, most effective, most diversified, and indeed the most respected legal profession on the planet, rivaled in prestige only by lawyers in the UK.
Over the next 30 years, however, not much changed. To be sure, firms, billable hours, and profits grew and grew. But real change did not occur, and by 2005 it was clear that the profession had neglected the legal needs of people of low income, and indeed we had priced legal services beyond the reach even of the middle class and small businesses. At the upper echelons of law firms there was no attention to efficiency. Rates charged to clients went up, up, up. Our reputation as a profession did not.
The Great Recession of 2008 was a catalyst of change, accelerating forces that had begun to push back on the profession. Corporate clients have started demanding value, not endless billable hours. Emerging technologies that have disrupted other professions have started moving into the legal space to disrupt how lawyers work. New kinds of business models have begun to compete for work law firms traditionally handled.
Let me sum up how much the world has turned upside down:
- The most recognized legal brand in the United States today is not Skadden or Cravath – the vast majority of Americans have never heard of those venerable firms. It’s Legal Zoom (from which I recently purchased my will), because they have made legal services affordable for the middle class and small businesses.
- More small consumer and business disputes are resolved each year by the online automated platform, Modria, than by all the courts of the nation combined. Over 60 million each year.
- And developers at IBM Watson believe in a few years Watson will be able easily to pass the Multistate Bar Exam, that little test you’ll be taking soon. It will likely outperform most of you!
These would have been unthinkable when I was practicing law, or even ten years ago.
What does all this mean for you? Well, I don’t think you spent the last three years of your lives at Vanderbilt Law School so you could be a bystander, an inert force, as the profession goes through this transition. As Will Rodgers once quipped: “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just stand there.” You are on the right track. But don’t just stand there. Getting our profession to the New Normal, whatever that is, is going to happen on your watch. I urge you to be an active participant in reshaping our profession.
Now, I’m not advising you to fire off sharply-worded memos to the senior lawyers at your employer when you show up this fall, saying “Ruhl told us to demand change from top to bottom!” Rather, when there is an opportunity to participate in your employer’s strategy for responding to these forces of change, jump in!
Let me give you an example. A few weeks I ago I spoke with Kevin Saunders, a 2015 Vandy Law grad working for the prestigious Baker Hostetler firm in Cleveland. He told me about his “jump in” moment.
The firm had the vision to be a beta tester of a new legal research platform using the IBM Watson technology. Kevin immediately volunteered to be one of the firm’s testers. He says he was able to cut research time by well over half, and often found cases and other materials using the new technology that did not turn up in other search engines. It even wrote him a draft memo summarizing the cases, which he said needed little editing. Eventually the firm was so impressed they agreed to pay for the service, called ROSS, when it moved from beta to live.
So that’s what I’m talking about. Jump in. Don’t stand there and watch others be the beta testers for change in the profession.
You can also shape not only the future of the profession, but of the law as well, through curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit. In the Old Normal, lawyers in private practice were largely reactive, responding to client needs as they came through the door. That’s just not good enough anymore. You need to become trend spotters—alert to forces of change in society, thinking about their consequences and how your field of law can play a role, and then having something to say about it before others jump in.
Let me give you the example of a lawyer here in Nashville, James Mackler of the Frost Brown Todd law firm. I’m not plugging him or his firm, but his story—which he presented to my class on the legal industry—is on point.
A few years ago Amazon floated its idea of delivering packages to your doorstep with drones. It’s almost four years later, and Amazon is still not using drones to deliver packages, but James took the long view. He had an aviation background before going into law, so he could see what drones might do and problems they could pose. He began reading everything he could find on drones, monitored media, monitored government discussions, and he began writing and speaking about the legal issues the use of drones could present in professional journals and meetings, in public media, and on his own blog. Today James is one of the nation’s leading practitioners of the expanding field of drone law.
You might ask, well how much drone law work is there really, and how many drone lawyers do we need? Today, maybe not much, and maybe not many. But in ten years? Believe me, Amazon has not let go of the idea. There will be drones, and there will be legal work surrounding them. And the early birds like James will be the go-to lawyers.
In my class on the legal industry, called Law 2050, one project requires students to spot an emerging trend like drones and write a blog post, an alert letter to clients, and a bar journal article. This year 44 of you were in that class, and last year about 10 of you were as 2Ls—so over 50 of you in all. Some of the topics you chose include:
- 3D printing of organs
- the intellectual property law of cannabis
- driverless cars
- facial recognition software
- bitcoins and block chain technology [I still don’t get what that is!]
- synthetic meat
- anti-ageing drugs
- asteroid mining
- and…mind uploading
Ten years ago, none of those would have been on anyone’s list. Nobody “Ubered” ten years ago! Today the company is valued in the billions and swimming in legal issues.
Today it is clear that each of these topics is or soon will become an engine of legal issues [well, mind uploading may have longer to wait]. It may be too late to jump in on some of these as an early bird the way James did on drones. You’ll have to start thinking about what’s coming next—be a trend spotter. Don’t stand there watching others be the early birds – jump in!
Bill Gates once famously observed: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years, and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction,” he urged.
I can’t give you any better advice than that. The jolt the legal profession took in the Great Recession led some to hype the magnitude and pace of change, as if it would happen overnight. If you believed the New York Time, which seemed to take great relish in the thought of lawyers on hard times, it was all over for us.
That was an example of the first mistake Gates warned against – overestimating the short-term change. The legal profession isn’t going away – if anything there will be more need for our services as life gets ever more complex. So don’t panic!
But also do not commit the second mistake—do not underestimate the change ahead over the next 10 years in our profession and in law. Do not stand there and watch the profession change around you – Jump in! Do not stand there and let others be the early birds as the law changes around you – Jump in!
How, when, and where, I can’t say. It’s up to you. But this is what’s exciting about the timing of your entry into the profession. It was hard for anyone in my generation to motivate change. Jumping in as an agent of change in my law firm would have gotten me a kick out the door! For you, it will open doors.
What I can say is that as Vanderbilt Law grads, you are among the best our nation’s legal education system has to offer to get this profession to its New Normal on good footing, embracing its evolution, and with a renewed sense of its obligations to clients and society.
I have confidence you will jump in, and will make a difference.
Thank you again for the privilege of being asked to offer these thoughts on your important day.
And once again, my heartiest of Congratulations!
Earlier this week Vanderbilt Law School’s Program on Law & Innovation showcased students from Adjunct Professor Marc Jenkins’ Technology in Legal Practice class as they “pitched” apps designed to promote access to justice. Four teams of students worked with four different Nashville legal aid organizations to apply tech solutions to different intake, sorting, and guidance challenges.
- The winning team built out an app based on Neota Logic’s platform, which students in last year’s class had started, to help the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville help artists determine their best business entity model. We thank Casey Summar, Executive Director and Vanderbilt alumus from the A&BC for working with the students. The app should be live very soon.
- One team worked with the Nashville Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) office to develop a mobile app, using the Justinmind platform, to help determine eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This app was developed in a Neota Logic version in last year’s class which is now live. Adrienne Kittos and Bethany Jackson of JFON worked with the students.
- A third team assisted in the design of an application inside of SalesForce, known as Ask Jane, to help the Tennessee Justice Center work with medical service providers to quickly determine Medicaid (TennCare) eligibility for incoming patients. Rob Watkins, of TJC and the attorney in charge of the Ask Jane application development, worked with the students.
- Finally, the Legal Aid Society worked with a team to begin developing an app that will help those facing debt collection calls and lawsuits navigate what is needed to appear in court. Claire Abely and Zac Oswald of LAS worked with the students. Last year’s class worked with LAS to develop a Neota Logic foreclosure assistance app that is now live.
The students did a great job working through the semester with their respective teams and organizations and each put on a truly informative, passionate, and professional pitch. We are thankful to the organizations and their representatives for working with the students, as noted above, and also to our panel of judges for offering feedback and advice:
- Meredith Griffith, Senior Corporate Counsel, Asurion
- Greg Stevens, Executive Vice-President, General Counsel & Secretary, Change Healthcare
- Chelsey Johnson, Chief Sales Officer & Associate General Counsel, Logic Force Consulting
- Professor Nancy Hyer of Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management
And of course, most of all we are thankful to our students, who worked hard to offer help to these worthy causes. Great work!
It’s a busy week ahead for our Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School:
Wednesday, April 13, 12:00 – 1:00, internationally regarded legal industry commentator Richard Susskind will deliver the 2016 Victor S. Johnson Lecture to the Law School community on theme of the Future of the Legal Profession. The lecture is open tot he public.
Thursday, April 14, 8:30 – 9:45, Richard Susskind will deliver the second of his public lectures, this one on Artificial Intelligence and the Professions (based on his insightful new book on that theme). This lecture will kick off a CLE conference we have organized, Watson Esq., to explore in more detail the impacts and uses of artificial intelligence and other emerging data and computation technologies in legal practice. Speakers include leaders in the field.
Friday, April 15th, 8:30 – 3:00, we are holding an academic workshop on the Frontiers of Artificial Intelligence and Law, at which leading scholars and practitioners will discuss their work in the field.
And next week, Tuesday, April 19, 3:30 – 5:00, students in Adjunct Professor Marc Jenkins’ Technology in Legal Practice class will present their “apps” designed with area legal aid organizations to improve access to justice. A panel of judges will assess the apps. The presentations are open to the public and a reception will follow.
The policy world is, to say the least, focused intently and contentiously on the disruptive effects climate change will have on humans and the biosphere. And rightly so—it’s not looking good. Aggressive public laws and policies must be put in place now, and private behavior must turn towards a much lower carbon future, if we are to effectively mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
As I discussed several weeks ago, however, my friend and colleague Michael Bess has recently published a book, Our Grandchildre Redesigned, examining an unstoppable trend that could be disruptive on the same scale as climate change—the convergence of pharmaceutical, technological, and genetic advances aimed at substantially redesigning humans. This is not science fiction—it is already happening and is picking up. It is not implausible to believe that by mid-century we will have the capacity to manipulate our bodies and minds to be healthier, stronger, smarter, better, and to live longer. By the close of this century it may be possible to routinely produce what we today would think of as a superhuman.
Yet the policy world is virtually silent when it comes to the prospect of a society of redesigned humans notwithstanding (as outlined in my post and of course in the book) that the trajectory towards that state will disrupt society as we know it and pose new and more extreme pressures on the biosphere (think humans, lots more of them, living to 150). Why is that?
One explanation may be that the public and policy-makers simply don’t appreciate how transformative the human redesign will be. They may see it as just about more incremental improvements on medicine and technology. But climate change is also perceived by many as incremental—very incremental—with all the doom and gloom not really felt until decades from now. Climate change policy shapers, however, have stressed the ideas of tipping points, irreversibility, and nonlinear change to get across the point that action must be taken during this “incremental” phase. Yet, again, the same could be said of the human redesign trend—there will be nonlinear advances and a point of no return.
Another possible explanation is that people and policy-makers can’t see any bad coming from the human redesign trend, whereas climate change has very clear downsides for many parts of the world (albeit some upsides for other areas, at least for a while, such as longer growing seasons). By contrast, what’s bad about humans getting faster, stronger, smarter, better, and living longer? Well, read Bess’s book! Sure, a lot of good will come out of it, but so could a lot of bad if we don’t manage it well.
Lastly, one difference between climate change and the human redesign trend is that climate change discourse is brimming with climate models that show, with a a good degree of credibility, what the trends and end points look like generally. It’s easy to construct a map showing what happens to a shoreline if sea level rises five feet, or to depict new temperature regimes on a map, or to estimate economic impacts of more floods. To be sure, climate change models are still very rough, but they are being produced and improved daily. By contrast, it is much harder to capture the disruptive impacts of the human redesign trend on a map or to envision and quantify the economic impacts.
Some combination of these differences between climate change and the human redesign trend likely accounts for their starkly different treatment in current policy discourse notwithstanding their starkly similar scales of disruption. But I am starting to get worried that neglecting to confront the human redesign trend–to start thinking now about policy responses and initiatives–may mean that progress made on climate change could be undermined in large part by the effects of transforming to a society of superhumans. I plan to devote some of my attention int he next couple of years to correcting that potentially grave oversight.