Australia: Tech trends from SXSW blow up legal issues

Lawyer jobs being taken by robots is a popular media theme these days. However, after having attending the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology conference last week, I think the robots may, in fact, be needing us. In the next few years, technology will take us to a level of complexity that is almost unimaginable. That complexity will stretch our existing legal frameworks and require highly skilled lawyers to navigate outcomes.

SXSW is one of the most important technology events on the global calendar. More than 75,000 delegates descended on Austin, Texas, to hear over 5,000 speakers ranging from IT company execs, Hollywood celebrities and no less than six 2020 presidential candidates, including Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz. The big tech companies pay millions to completely transform sleepy restaurants into "Experience Spaces" to capture the eye of SXSW's young "influencer" crowd. In fact, the event has been called the "Millennials' Woodstock."

The big theme for the event was the ubiquity of artificial intelligence. Eminent futurist Amy Webb was asked at the end of her session on tech trends — attended by over 2,000 people — why she had not mentioned AI. She said that the answer was simple: "AI is in everything and every industry, now and in the future."

AI was everywhere at SXSW — in sessions ranging from health care, transport and finance all the way to storytelling. Concern about bias in AI was widespread as well, with at least six sessions dealing with this topic in part or in whole.

The examples of bias in AI seem to be proliferating. Last year, MIT released research that found facial recognition software had a 34 percent error rate for darker-skinned women compared to 1 percent for lighter-skinned males. Google Inc. made the news recently for removing gender-based pronouns from its "smart compose" Gmail technology because of gender bias risk.

There have been allegations of racial bias in algorithms used by judges to determine the likelihood of recidivism as well as in AI used by police to predict where crimes might happen. The press has reported that a large technology company stopped using an AI-enabled system to assist with recruitment when the system was found to be biased against women.

To be clear, a machine itself is not biased. Problems arise when the bias of the programming team or the bias that is inherent in the encoded business rules or data sets is passed into the machine's system. Bias within an organization can have significant legal repercussions in a variety of ways, and organizations will not be able to simply blame a machine for any bias displayed in its behavior.

It is critical that bias be eliminated from AI systems. Some suggested technology fixes involve having an algorithm that polices other algorithms to limit bias. One solution offered at SXSW was that the algorithm should be developed by diverse programming teams. This fantastic idea should be a prerequisite for all development teams, not just to avoid bias but also to get better outcomes.

When YouTube first started, 10 percent of its videos were loaded by users the wrong way. Nobody could understand why until it was realized that everyone on the development team was right-handed, and had not thought about how left-handed people would hold a camera differently when recording videos.

AI causes another issue for lawyers. When companies make decisions that may be challenged by regulators or plaintiffs, companies may need to explain why a particular decision was reached. This is hard to do if the decision was, in fact, made by an AI. The early days of AI used "black box" technology, which meant that it was not possible to determine how the AI had made a decision or what data it had used. Newer AI applications are moving toward having auditability of the decision-making process.

One of the more challenging propositions at SXSW came from Nick Polson, author of "AIQ: How AI Works and How We Can Harness its Power for a Better World." Polson, like many of the technologists at the event, was of the view that bias in AI will ultimately be resolved and is not a major issue. He did, however, think that interpretation of AI results will ultimately fall to a new professional group. In the same way that lawyers interpret laws, there would be a new profession specializing in interpretation of outcomes produced by AI systems.

AI-powered voice assistants like Siri have caught on with astonishing speed. More than 120 million smart speakers have been sold in the U.S., while virtually every appliance manufacturer and car maker has implemented or plans to implement voice-operation. Samsung will include its Bixby in all devices by 2020. A large tech company has released the first of its household appliances, the voice-operated microwave. For those who want to really embrace voice-controlled everything, a tech company has joined with the largest home builder in the U.S., Lennar Corp., to pump out purpose-built connected homes by the hundreds.

Voice-tech enables what is known as persistent recognition systems. You are always being monitored in your home and elsewhere. This creates some significant legal issues, not the least of which is how to respond to access requests by law enforcement and litigants to the information recorded. Imagine a world where your toaster gets subpoenaed to corroborate evidence your connected crockpot overheard. It also allows what is known as behavioral biometrics, where companies can determine your emotional state.

For example, one major tech company has filed a patent that will enable its voice assistant to assess your voice to determine if you are sad or sick. A large retailer has a connected cart patent that detects stress levels and can inform a shop assistant if you appear to be upset and need help finding something. Kia Motors Corp. is working on a car that changes the interior condition of the car in response to your emotions. This technology could put an end to road rage, as soothing lights and a seat massage kick in when you get angry on the streets.

What is the law related to companies knowing what is happening inside our heads? What is the governance framework around such bio data? Who owns it? What can companies do with it? Can it be sold or ported to other companies?

This bio data extends to your DNA, which has become very relevant as the cost of sequencing the human genome has come down from its original $100 million price tag in 2001 to under $1,000 per person. Also, with CRISPR technology, it is possible to edit your genome, as purportedly happened in China a few months ago when a scientist claimed to have created the first genome-edited baby. Law enforcement is in favor of universal genetic databases storing everyone's DNA. What are your rights with respect to your DNA, and how can you restrict the ability of others using it in some way?

This massive focus on data led Amy Webb to pronounce confidently that one of the major trends is that "Privacy is dead." This was echoed by one of the more extraordinary speakers at SXSW, Roger McNamee, founder of venture capital fund Elevation Partners, a true Silicon Valley insider and an early investor in Facebook Inc. McNamee was there to talk about his new book, "Zucked," in which he criticizes Facebook and other big tech companies for tracking us and then using the information to modify our behavior or profit from its sale to third parties.

The theme of loss of trust in big tech was addressed in a number of sessions, reaching its peak with a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as the presidential candidate gave a campaign promise not only to split the big tech companies where they both operate a marketplace and are a participant in that marketplace but also to reverse some of their major acquisitions, such as Facebook's purchase of Instagram Inc.

Given recent sweeping privacy reforms in Europe and now in California, I do not agree that privacy is dead. I think privacy laws have an important role to play in protecting our rights with respect to our personal information, as increasingly complex systems make surveillance and behavior modification more pervasive.

Autonomous vehicles have come a long way in a short time. Drive.ai has a fully autonomous fleet operating commercially in Dallas right now. According to experts in the field, while advances are being made in the U.S., they see other countries with different road laws making greater progress.

SXSW speaker Malcolm Gladwell, author of books such as "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers," said that he was not a huge fan of self-driving cars, especially given the cybersecurity issues. His point was that these cars would likely cause traffic fatalities in the U.S. to drop from their current high of 40,000 per year, but he questioned if we would be prepared for significant deaths that result from hacking. Would society be able to cope with 1,000 people dying on one day due to a terrorist hacking people's cars and causing them to accelerate wildly? For a lawyer, the questions are myriad, not the least of which is where liability for a range of issues falls.

Finally it seems like we are destined for a tech-induced fork in human evolution. A neuroscientist, Heather Berlin, discussed how there is currently tech available in market that allows disabled people to move prosthetic limbs using only thoughts. It will only be a few years before this technology becomes available to the mainstream. What are the implications of a world where you can simply buy a neural implant to triple your child's memory? The Transhumanist movement is dedicated to augmenting people with technology. What are the implications for our laws, our ethics and our humanity when it is possible to create superhumans in this way?

It is not possible to say with clarity what the future of technology holds, but it is certain that it will be very complex, and lawyers have an important role to play in helping navigate this complexity.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions