Major new study to tackle law and policy in New Zealand
() is coming at us before we fully understand what it might means. Established ways of doing things in areas like transport regulation, crime prevention and legal practice are being challenged by new technologies such as driverless cars, crime prediction software and “ lawyers”. The possible implications of innovations for law and public policy in New Zealand will be teased out in a new, ground-breaking Law Foundation study. The three-year multi-disciplinary project, supported by a $400,000 Law Foundation grant, is being run out of Otago University. Project team leader Dr Colin Gavaghan says that technologies – essentially, technologies that can learn and adapt for themselves – pose fascinating legal, practical and ethical challenges.
Legal challenges already exist
A current example is PredPol, the technology now widely used by Police in American cities to predict where and when crime is most likely to occur. PredPol has been accused of reinforcing bad practices such as racially-biased policing. Some US courts are also using predictive software when making judgments about likely reoffending. “Predictions about dangerousness and risk are important, and it makes sense that they are as accurate as possible,” Colin says. “But there are possible downsides – technologies have a veneer of objectivity, because people think machines can’t be biased, but their parameters are set by humans. This could result in biases being overlooked or even reinforced. “Also, because those parameters are often kept secret for commercial or other reasons, it can be hard to assess the basis for some -based decisions. This ‘inscrutability’ might make it harder to challenge those decisions, in the way we might challenge a decision made by a judge or a police officer.”
Autonomous cars and lawyers
Another example is the debate over how driverless cars should make choices in life- threatening situations. Recently, Mercedes announced that it will programme its cars to prioritise car occupants over pedestrians when an accident is imminent. Moreover, law firms have ‘hired’ lawyers which raises question such as: “Is the replacement of a human lawyer by an lawyer more like making the lawyer redundant, or more like replacing one lawyer with another one? Some professions – lawyers, doctors, teachers – also have ethical and pastoral obligations. Are we confident that an worker will be able to perform those roles?” […]