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The Canadian Bar Association

Agnese Smith

Technology

Why law firms need to worry about quantum computing

By Agnese Smith December 7, 2018 7 December 2018

Why law firms need to worry about quantum computing

 

Blame it on faulty PR, but quantum computers just don’t scare people the same way that artificial superintelligence does. That’s a mistake because many experts say the tech’s threat to secrecy is real. The time to prepare is now.

Among those sending up warning flares are spy agencies like the U.S. National Security Agency, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, tech giants like IBM, as well as computer experts at University of Waterloo, a world leader in quantum studies. Anyone who needs to keep data protected for more than a decade should start thinking beyond today’s common encryption standards, which quantum computers could easily smash through, they say.

Some law firms say they are already taking action.

“It’s definitely on our radar,” says Benoit Yelle, a member of the executive committee of the tech group at Gowling WLG in Montreal. The firm has a research team in place that studies developments in the security field, including quantum technology. “We decided long ago to be proactive,” says Yelle, who has an engineering background.

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Transportation

How should regulators approach the consumer risks of cryptocurrency investing?

By Agnese Smith October 1, 2018 1 October 2018

How should regulators approach the consumer risks of cryptocurrency investing?

 

Canadian consumers need to “exercise caution” when engaging with the unregulated world of cryptocurrencies. Policymakers, meanwhile, should step up their efforts at monitoring these new assets, and educating the public about their risks. 

These are the conclusions of Ottawa-based non-profit Public Interest Advocacy Centre, echoing similar warnings from some of the world’s most respected voices, including Nobel prize winners, central bankers, and even comedians.

Cryptocurrencies “are just not ready for prime time yet,” particularly for your average Canadian, said John Lawford, PIAC executive director, in a telephone interview.  “There are just too many weaknesses,” including security breaches, lack of consumer redress, not to mention the colossal waste of energy that the current systems require. In its latest report, Assessing the Emergence of "Alternative" Currencies and Legal Risk: the Consumer's Perspective, PIAC called for the creation of “a working group of key stakeholders to review the risks to consumers.”

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Law and technology

Are we putting too much trust in blockchain?

By Agnese Smith April 23, 2018 23 April 2018

Are we putting too much trust in blockchain?

 

During the go-go days of the 1990s, people who should have known better convinced themselves that economic booms and busts were a thing of the past. Such was their faith in traditional institutions like central banks that only small policy tweaks sufficed to magic away all perceived problems. 

“Trust the Fed — trust the market,” was the operating mantra, echoing globalist ideals. 

Fast forward post 2008 financial meltdown, ginormous hacks and fake news, and an entirely new slogan has taken hold, one that reflects a more libertarian mood: “Trust nobody — trust code.”  This includes bankers, lawyers, governments — even formerly beloved tech companies. 

Nothing captures the flavour of our unsettled and untrusting times like blockchain technology, a way to create a tamper-proof ledger that everyone can agree on without anyone being in charge. It was specifically created a decade ago to support the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but enthusiasts see much wider applications, like helping people manage their online identities and assets.

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Cover story

Automating justice

By Agnese Smith March 13, 2018 13 March 2018

Automating justice

 

It’s been a bad decade for gut feelings.

Computers are taking over what used to be the exclusive domain of human decision-making. From movie-picking algorithms to self-driving cars that promise an end to fatal crashes caused by human error, we’re striving to develop technology that can predict when we will make bad choices and help us avoid mistakes.

But as the sophistication of software programs powered by artificial intelligence grows, so does our unease: We are increasingly dependent on technology we do not fully understand. And nowhere is that unease more apparent than in the legal world as it grapples with the implications of using a new generation of risk-assessment tools to guide decision-making in the justice system.

“People’s freedom is at stake,” said Carmen Cheung, professor of global practice at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. “There’s a sense that [predictive software] might help, but we haven’t had a robust enough debate around the issues. Until we have a proper conversation, they probably shouldn’t be rolled out.”

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Transportation

Rules of the road: How are we going to regulate autonomous cars?

By Agnese Smith April 7, 2017 7 April 2017

Rules of the road: How are we going to regulate autonomous cars?


Canadian regulators pondering the possibility of a truly autonomous car future must grapple with two alternate realities — one where the necessary technology is right around the corner and the other where it’s way down the road. Either way, the question is how safe is safe enough, and at what cost?

Car makers like BMW and Ford are unsurprisingly in the former camp, announcing plans to deliver fully automated vehicles (AV), with Level 5 capabilities – or full automation – within the next five years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in January its cars will have that in “3 months maybe, 6 months definitely.” Uber, Google and other technology firms are also investing billions in this space. Self-driving advocates point not only to the potential profits, but also the life-saving and environmental benefits this technology could eventually bring.  

But many in the artificial intelligence and engineering community are skeptical about this timeline. They say the technology for AVs to drive in mixed traffic — presumably, without chaos — are still many years away. For all the teeth-gnashing and shirt-rending angst about how AI might eventually kill off the human race, right now it can’t even drive to a suburban mall, let alone handle junctions like Paris’ Etoile, the intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard and Lower Jarvis St in Toronto or pretty much anywhere in Italy.

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