The law is adapting to a software-driven world

 in the Financial Times: “When the investor Marc Andreessen wrote in 2011 that “software is eating the world,” his point was a contentious one. He argued that the boundary between technology companies and the rest of industry was becoming blurred, and that the “information economy” would supplant the physical economy in ways that were not entirely obvious. Six years later, software’s dominance is a fact of life. What it has yet to eat, however, is the law. If almost every sector of society has been exposed to the headwinds of the digital revolution, governments and the legal profession have not. But that is about to change. The rise of complex software systems has led to new legal challenges. Take, for example, the artificial intelligence systems used in self-driving cars. Last year, the US Department of Transportation wrote to Google stating that the government would “interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor-vehicle design” as referring to the car’s artificial intelligence. So what does this mean for the future of law?

It means that regulations traditionally meant to govern the way that humans interact are adapting to a world that has been eaten by software, as Mr Andreessen predicted. And this is about much more than self-driving cars. Complex algorithms are used in mortgage and credit decisions, in the criminal justice and immigration systems and in the realm of national security, to name just a few areas. The outcome of this shift is unlikely to be more lawyers writing more memos. Rather, new laws will start to become more like software — embedded within applications as computer code. As technology evolves, interpreting the law itself will become more like programming software.

But there is more to this shift than technology alone. The fact is that law is both deeply opaque and unevenly accessible. The legal advice required to understand both what our governments are doing, and what our rights are, is only accessible to a select few. Studies suggest, for example, that an estimated 80 per cent of the legal needs of the poor in the US go unmet. To the average citizen, the inner workings of government have become more impenetrable over time. Granted, laws have been murky to average citizens for as long as governments have been around. But the level of disenchantment with institutions and the experts who run them is placing new pressures on governments to change their ways. The relationship between citizens and professionals — from lawyers to bureaucrats to climatologists — has become tinged with scepticism and suspicion. This mistrust is driven by the sense that society is stacked against those at the bottom — that knowledge is power, but that power costs money only a few can afford….(More)”.