May 3, 2015

This issue, though somewhat skewed towards case reports (excellent and important though they are) includes two pieces that I find especially interesting. Susan McLean on the sharing economy and Emma Wright and Dianne Devlin on smart cities deal with emerging trends that may shape our future more profoundly than that election thingy that I keep hearing so much about. These are features of the present and future that it pays to understand – but too many of us understand only at the level of the saloon bar bore or tabloid feature. While it is not hard to imagine the sharing economy without IT (every village has one), there are new aspects to it that can only be understood fully if you understand the IT that has invigorated it. Smart cities might just be conceivable without the application of IT (it would be called planning) but the future that smart cities promise is world’s away from the well planned metropolis.

The Wright/Devlin piece, though interesting in its own right, is something of a trailer for a forthcoming issue which will be largely focused on that topic. That issue, inspired by (and leaning very heavily on) an event held in Glasgow at the end of March, Designing Smart Cities – opportunities and regulatory challenges  (jointly organised by CREATe,  Horizon and Strathclyde University), seeks to cover the range of issues that arise from the smart cities concept. Our aim is to deal not just with the law/regulatory aspects of smart cities but the mechanics so that the issue can be a point of reference for IT lawyers dealing with this emerging feature of society.

I hope that will be the first in a series of in-depth treatments that will embrace both the technical and the law. Artificial intelligence is high on my list for similar treatment – the reality needs tackling not just the Hollywood simplification. I expect the forthcoming SCL Futures Conference to help out with insights on that one. 

Feminising C&L

A recent call from SCL Chair Roger Bickerstaff for more involvement in SCL events from younger SCL members included a brief reference to the need to correct the imbalance in the sexes too. I was inspired to smugness as I ‘knew’ that the pages of the magazine had, for a long period, been split almost equally between the sexes. And then I discovered that I was a case study in everyday sexism. Because, on a count up over recent issues, I found that the figures didn’t back up my impression – over the last two volumes, it is 141 male authors and 53 female, and it was probably even more uneven before that.

The sexism is of the more innocent variety (says he). I have never turned away a contribution because it covered a topic that was ‘too technical for a pretty little thing like you’ – I am saving that up for a Harry Small contribution just before I retire. But my perception was warped – the emergence of more female contributors, and there really are more than once there were, seemed remarkable because of sexist expectations. Some of that warped perception was down to the disproportionate impact some female contributors have had in recent years – a good number seem to have had a crucial role in determining approaches to legal issues in the IT field – so that’s positive.

The imbalance is not of my making. It deserves wider consideration than I can manage here. I suspect that it arises from the wider imbalance in the IT industry that traditionally fed into the recruitment pool for IT lawyers. There was undoubtedly a time when IT lawyers were mainly geeks who did law degrees or, very commonly, construction lawyers who expanded on their skills so as to cover the complex transactions that were associated with early computers. They were all men. After all, it is not that long since computers were the size of a tower block so a bit of construction experience was useful. And I am certainly not to blame, at least not significantly, for the shortage of women studying for science and engineering degrees – that’s probably going to have a knock-on effect for years.

There has been real progress – even on these pages. But times should have changed more quickly. I don’t think that there are impressionable young women out there poring over the pages of this magazine in search of inspiration but if times are to change then every extra push will help. I would like to echo Roger Bickerstaff’s appeal: if you are a female IT lawyer, please consider writing for us. If you are a senior figure in IT law, please encourage some of your more junior members to write for us, whether they be male or female, but especially if they are female. And if you are that senior figure, you might like to consider not seeking a writing credit just because you checked the article through.