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Bridging the gap between law and technology

Legislative and regulatory advances tend to develop in silos. Because of this, Aileen Schultz says that technologies are emerging in ways that are not always legally and globally sustainable. She has a plan to fix that.

Aileen Schultz

It’s never been easy for laws to keep up with technological change. But the disconnect today between innovation and regulation is widening. To help bridge the gap, legal professionals, regulators, policy professionals, and technologists will come together on August 1st for the World Legal Summit, in the hope of fostering a better understanding of the legislative frameworks shaping emerging technology and new global systems. CBA National interviewed the summit’s founder and president, Aileen Schultz.

CBA National: What drew you to law and technology, and how did you get involved in this project?

Aileen Schultz: Law really is the fabric by which we all coexist, and so I’ve always been fascinated by it. I almost went to law school at one point, but it all started when I was a research associate working on a federally funded project dealing with human trafficking in and throughout Canada.  I saw then how slowly the government and our legal systems operate, and that was the impetus for me getting into technology.  Then through various fortunate circumstances, I ended up working in the legal innovation space and haven’t left since.

N: So, what are the main legal and regulatory challenges involving technology?

AS: First and foremost is the speed at which the law and regulatory bodies can keep up with emerging technologies. We’re seeing all these companies and organizations that are developing technologies, some of which are effectively running rogue. They’re ethics dumping in various jurisdictions and operating outside of the law in a lot of ways.

N: Can you give me an example?

AS: A great example is the CRISPR twins, who were born recently in China after a scientist used gene-editing technology. At the time, there wasn’t legislation or, any way of managing that from a regulatory standpoint. Although the scientist is no longer allowed to practice, he wasn’t legally sanctioned. Though since this, China has changed its rules. But you can see how speed is a major issue. 

N: How else can laws be slow to respond?

AS: On the other hand, they can also inhibit the actual progression of technology in a lot of ways. The fact that we don’t have regulatory and legislative structures to deal with emerging technologies means that either they’re being pushed off and even built underground, or simply sitting dormant and unable to evolve because we can’t adopt them in real-world systems — blockchain technology and smart contracts are great examples. So are autonomous vehicles.

N: So faced with ethics dumping on the one hand, and laws stifling innovation on the other, what do we need to do?               

AS: It’s such a massive question, right? And there really is no single solution. But what we’re hoping to do with the World Legal Summit is to create an environment where we can bridge the gap between the legal industries and the tech industries. Technologists are out there innovating, building technology. It’s not necessarily their job to worry about making laws for them to operate. It’s the regulatory bodies that should be focused on governing these things. The problem is that they aren’t speaking to each other, and so you end up with laws that don’t necessarily understand the technology. Or you end up with technology that doesn’t incorporate the laws all that well.

N: What about artificial intelligence?  I imagine that will be discussed at the summit.

AS: Yes, it’s a big one, because there’s this global race to win in artificial intelligence — whatever that even means. The way we’re structuring it at the World Legal Summit is to focus on three main issues — identity and personal governance, autonomous machines, and then cybersecurity and personal data.

N: Explain to me the issues around technology and our identity.

AS: We talk about self-sovereign identity. And I see it as the ultimate use case for emerging technologies because it’s about creating this world in which people can operate in their own right. As human beings, we should have that right. We should be building frameworks in which we ourselves can actually manage, maintain, and effectively govern our own identity and everything that goes along with that, including our finances, our health records, our education credentials, our work history. If we exist in a world where we personally can manage all these things that creates a kind of freedom. I see that as a human right.

N: And what, for you, is self-sovereign identity? Is it control and consent over the use of your data? Is it ownership over that data?

AS: It’s all of those things. But first and foremost, it’s tackling this idea that I’m born onto this planet and then I’m issued a birth certificate in a given jurisdiction.  From that point onward, I am in this cycle of having to get everything certified and issued by various institutions that are just there. In a philosophical sense, those institutions are bringing us into existence, right? But as individuals defined differently by different institutions, we have different types of rights. And that changes anytime you go to another country. So with everything else, we need to think about what it means to have a consistent identity.

The World Legal Summit will be hosted in locations worldwide on August 1, 2019. It seeks to bring the legal and technology industries together globally, to collaborate in the understanding and research of legislative frameworks needed for the sustainable evolution of technology, and emergent global systems.