Future of Law with Ed Walters: The Law of Robots

Ed Walters, the CEO of Fastcase and an adjunct at Georgetown University Law Center and Cornell Tech, opened this semester’s Future of Law Lecture Series. with a presentation, titled “The Law of Robots.” Mr. Walters gave students a deep dive into advancements occurring in technology and how the law needs to prepare for those upcoming changes.

Mr. Walters began his remarks by discussing the Industrial, Information, and (upcoming) Robot Revolutions and how they changed or will change the economic, social and legal landscapes. He started with the Industrial Revolution, explaining that while machines did replace people in many jobs, that revolution changed the economy and workforce in such dramatic ways that demand for labor went up. However, while industries and the workforce were changing, the law remained fairly stagnant. Basic employment laws like child labor laws and maximum hour laws were not passed for nearly one hundred years.

The next revolution is still ongoing—the internet is changing the world and the workforce as part of the Information Revolution. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, these changes are occurring rapidly. Consequently, the law continues to play catch-up, struggling to answer many of the new legal questions that emerged with technology and the internet.

Mr. Walters posited that a third revolution, the “Robot Revolution,” is beginning. This revolution is defined by a combination of the “hardware,” or machines, of the Industrial Revolution and the power of the internet and information stemming from the Information Revolution. Smarter machines are now accomplishing much more difficult tasks, many of which were preiovusly considered the sole province of human decision-making.

While the law lagged behind the Industrial and Information Revolutions, it needs to be ahead of the “Robot Revolution.” To stay abreast with technology, lawyers need to start thinking about the legal problems new technology will bring and determine how to apply or create law to govern those problems. Mr. Walters posed multiple questions that highlight the need for law that can adapt to and account for the changes attendant to the Robot Revolution. How should negligence law come into play with accidents caused by self-driving cars? What copyright protections, if any, should extend to a work created by a machine? Can and do machines commit crimes? If they do, how should they be punished? These are only a few of the many interesting legal questions that come with the expanding use of robots to do tasks that could previously only be accomplished by humans.

Mr. Walters reminded students that these revolutions are not replacing lawyers. Instead, they allow lawyers to practice at the “top of their degrees.” Tedious work such as combing through thousands of pages of discovery can increasingly be done by technology. Artificial intelligence and the Robot Revolution will enable lawyers to give the “things that are robotic about being a lawyer to the robots, “ Mr. Walters said, “and take the more meaningful, human side of law for [our]selves. Let’s be better, more human lawyers because of artificial intelligence.”

Mr. Walters concluded by reminding students that while it seems futuristic, this is a 2018, not a 2030, problem. Legal minds need to continue thinking about how to respond to these new legal challenges. Mr. Walters ended on a hopeful hopeful note, encouraging a more proactive response from the law regarding technological changes than has been seen in the past.