To say that the government should Do Something to fix the challenges of the digital age, or that we need a New Law to control the robots before they steal all our jobs, rests on the assumption that the government knows what to do and how to do it; and that our brilliant lawmakers know precisely what law would be most appropriate and effective.
If these assumptions were true, then government regulation would indeed be our best hope for adapting to the new world of artificial intelligence. The advantage of government regulation is that none of us would have to do anything to prepare ourselves – the new regulations would fix everything. This is a comforting thought. After all, that’s what governments are for.
An added advantage is that if things don’t go according to plan, we would know exactly whom to blame and how to resolve the problem. We could simply say that the government should Do Something to fix the mess they’ve created and we need a New Law to make sure it never happens again. The beauty of this approach is that it can be put on automatic repeat; there is no limit to the number of times you can call on the government to do something and lobby for a new law to fix things.
In Rules for a Flat World Gillian Hadfield challenges the assumptions surrounding the ability of legal rules to deal appropriately with the challenges of the digital age.
The first point she makes is the lack of any coherent global legal system to answer challenges thrown up by ‘the digital global economy’. Let’s remember that many parts of the global world are still struggling with the logistics of food production and starvation problems, mostly because they’re too busy fighting for Justice, Dignity and Reparations for Historic Injustices to have time to think about growing food for their starving populations. There is no reliable contract law. There are no secure property rights. The basic legal infrastructure is crude and rudimentary.
The second point is that even in advanced welfare economies where nobody has to starve to death unless they want to, where we have a reasonable expectation that contracts will be enforced and property rights will be protected, there is still no clear understanding of exactly what types of law would be appropriate and effective for the digital age.
The best example of this is the ongoing Uber litigation, which has so far been decided according to nineteenth century conceptions of what it means to be an ‘employee’ working under a contract of employment.
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